The action of Matthew Carr's second novel (following 2017's The Devils of Cardona) kicks off in Barcelona in the summer of 1909. It features private detective Harry Lawton, who arrives in the city just in time to be drawn into a series of bizarre killings. Several people have been killed by what seems to be some unknown kind of animal that drains their blood, adding a grim edge of tension to a city already broiling with both heat and political unrest.
Lawton himself is as complicated and multifaceted as the dire situation he encounters—he's an ex-soldier, a former boxer, and a former police detective with an array of skills and an unquenchable instinct for justice. Despite the exotic setting and the staccato series of events, he is a quintessential battered example of Raymond Chandler's man of honor— “the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.”
The main plot of Black Sun Rising centers on that series of killings by the so-called “beast of the Ramblas,” and whatever connection might exist between the murders and a scientist named Foulkes, but readers will mainly be paying attention to Lawton, an utterly convincing fictional creation. Carr expertly conveys the political turbulence of the moment, and his Barcelona bubbles and seethes with layer upon layer of darkness. Watching Lawton navigate this world is thrilling. Carr draws secondary characters with an easy skill, but this novel belongs entirely to its battered hero.
Black Sun Rising's many moving elements come together into a combination even more effective than The Devils of Cardona. This is an author who's mastered the art of the historical thriller.
Julia Tenney is a freelance writer living in San Francisco