Translated by Nick Caistor — In August 2020, we reviewed the first novel in Eva Garcia Saenz’s White City trilogy, The Silence of the White City. Set in Vitoria, in Spain, it was about the reopening of a historic serial killer case. Now, criminal profiler Unai Lopez de Ayala returns for the second instalment – The Water Rituals. The trilogy has proven to be a hit in Spain and Latin American, and there was great interest in the first novel when it appeared for the first time in English.
Unai is nicknamed The Kraken because of his long arms. He hasn’t returned to work yet after being shot in the head while working on the twin murders case of the previous novel. He’s been left mute from the brain injury, though he knows he may recover if he goes through rehabilitation. However, when his first ever girlfriend, Ana Belen Liano, is murdered in circumstances which suggest a ritualistic purpose, he is compelled back to work.
Attending the scene with his partner, Estibaliz, they discover Ana’s corpse suspended upside down over an ancient cauldron, her faced immersed in the water. An autopsy reveals her to be pregnant. Ana had become a famous graphic novelist, but Unai remembers her less than fondly as the distant, aloof 16-year-old he met on an archaeological dig in the summer of 1992. The dig had been organised by university professor Saul Tovar, and Unai went along with his three friends Jota, Asier and Luxto. The three inexperienced adolescents were each expertly seduced and then discarded by Ana, demonstrating how easily their friendship could be broken.
With help from his contacts, Unai is able to show that Ana’s murder had ritualistic intent. So-called water rituals have been practised throughout Europe since before the Middle Ages and involve killing by burning, hanging and finally drowning. Could Ana’s death have anything to do with the dig they went on almost 30 years ago? The discovery that a member of his gang had been seeing Ana again in secret provides one clue. But the killer is escalating their campaign, and other pregnant women are being murdered around the Basque Country.
The Silence of the White City was initially awarded four stars, but the novel stayed in my thoughts throughout the year and eventually made it on to my top five list for 2020. If anything, The Water Rituals is even better. Structurally, the two novels are similar, with a contemporary plot line involving an investigation and a second narrative revealing the mystery’s historical antecedents. Once again, the killer’s motivations are acutely revealed. This time around, more attention is given to Unai’s relationships with his colleagues, and with his boss and lover Deputy Superintendent Alba Díaz de Salvatierra. Garcia Saenz gives the couple a dilemma to resolve.
The elements of romance and the depiction of the local culture do not mask the darkness at the heart of this novel, which alongside the murders features child sex abuse and incest. The author gives a precis of events in the first book early on but, to enjoy the many complexities of The Water Rituals to their fullest, I would recommend reading The Silence of the White City first.
Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
CFL Rating: 5 Stars