Mystery Spanish

I have previously commented (here and here) on the difficulty that American and British writers of mystery novels have with getting matters relating to the Spanish language or Hispanic culture, even writers — such as Tony Hillerman and Michael Connelly — who have lived in places rife with Hispanic people, culture and history (New Mexico and Southern California, respectively).

Recently Connelly introduced a new detective, a female Mexican-American named Bella Lourdes. He seems to have seen Lourdes as a part of Hispanic women’s names, specifically as a second name (e.g. María Lourdes or Ana Lourdes) and assumed that it was a family name, as though a Marian apparition that happened in France in the 19th century could have given rise to a Spanish surname.

But I have also discovered that the ignorance of Hispanic matters is not limited to anglophone writers. I recently read the Olof Palme trilogy by Leif GW Persson, and found that when, in the third volume (Falling Freely, as if in a Dream), the Swedish detective goes to Majorca, Persson gets several things wrong.

1. He confuses the Spanish (Castilian) and Catalan (Majorcan) toponyms, referring to Cala Sant Vicente, which is actually either San Vicente (Spanish) or Sant Vicenç (Catalan).

2. He refers to the Guardia Civil as “the Spanish national police” while it’s actually one of the Spanish national police forces, the other being the Policía Nacional, though the case at hand, being an offshore disappearance, is in fact under the purview of the former.

3. One of the Spanish policemen is nicknamed El Pastor, ostensibly because of his clergyman-like character. While pastor can, in context, denote a protestant minister, such a context is too improbable to be the source of a nickname in Spain. The ordinary meaning of pastor is ‘shepherd’, and any hispanophone, when hearing such a nickname, would think of it as describing a shepherd-like quality, whatever that might mean.



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