APOLLÒNIA GUIU is a politically-outspoken Barcelona-based private eye who happens to collect lipstick, doesn't eat meat, and whose favourite means of self-defence is a quick knee to the groin. She's the creation of Maria-Antònia Oliver, who at one time was being touted as "the most famous Catalan writer of detective fiction" (as Bill Andrea once pointed out, "So what?").
Still, this is powerful stuff, what with the recurring themes of rape, abortion, vengeance and in-your-face feminism that pulls no punches and a character who's appealingly human.
Originally from Majorca, Lònia came to Barcelona as a student, and shared an apartment with a flock of radical students, which is where she became politicized. Still, she sees herself as just a country girl in the big city, and she has remained pretty down to earth.
Unfortunately, Lònia's adventures are marred by some hopelessly stilted English, presumably courtesy of the translator.
Two famous Spanish private eyes, Vasquez-Montalban's Pepe Carvalho, and Jaume Fuster's Lluís Arquer, appear in Study in Lilac. Pepe's appearance is really just a cameo, but Lluís plays a much larger role. In fact, the whole epilogue is basically Lònia telling him all the details of the case, and dumping the whole thing in his lap.
And why not? In real life, Jaume and Maria-Antònia are married, a sort of Spanish version of Bill Pronzini and Marcia Muller.
I certainly wouldn't describe Lònia as politically outspoken, nor do I consider her feminist. Now, I would say both are definitely true of her friend Mercè, but they don't even seem to be traits Lònia particularly admires. In fact, more than once I wondered if Lònia ever has an original thought of her own, or if Mercè does all her thinking for her.
Following are some direct quotes from Study In Lilac:
Ready to cry "Uncle!" yet? No? Well, in Antipodes, she worries that Mercè will find out she fell in love with a "rotten patriarch" (the detective in Australia who doesn't believe that being a PI is "women's work"). When Lònia wonders aloud if someone is a whore "by choice or obligation," her friend asks, "Are you crazy or what, Lònia? Are there any whores who do it for pleasure?"
Good old Lònia isn't quite sure how she feels about that, but when the question pops into her mind again later, she determines that when she returns to Barcelona, "...I'd have to talk about all this with Mercè, she'd help straighten me out." It is only after she watches a young girl with a "customer" at a whorehouse that she decides she won't "need to ask Mercè who was right about whores."
I'm sorry, but I just don't get it. What really bugs me is that Lònia isn't even particularly good at her job. She walks into traps. She gets the shit beat out of her in each of the books. And she relies on men a bit too much. Hell, in Study in Lilac, she dumps everything in Arquer's lap at the end, because she just can't deal with it anymore. And in Antipodes, she has to be bailed out by men on two continents: In Australia, she hires a male detective to investigate the case for her, and in Majorca, she has to be (literally) rescued by men. Also, I find it somewhat disturbing that the author evidently feels it necessary to include a scene in each of the books wherein Lònia is at the mercy of a pair of men who rip off her clothes, fondle her, and, in one case, spread her legs in order to rape her. Pretty sickening stuff. Personally, I find nothing to admire or recommend in these books.
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