Marc Pastor, the author of Barcelona Shadows and a crime scene investigator in his home city of Barcelona, Spain, wanted to be a writer for as long as he could remember. As a child, he never saw himself growing up to be a police detective. Rather, he read books by writers like Stephen King and Dean Koontz and envied the emotions that those writers could stir up in readers. As a young man he sought to study journalism in university, but, when his exam grades were not high enough for admittance into the journalism program, he turned to criminology.
"It's about curiosity," Pastor explained. "Journalism and criminology both are based on curiosity, on watching--studying the reasons why people do what they do."
In 1999, Pastor joined Barcelona's police force, and in 2004 he joined the forensics department. Despite the long shifts and unpredictable hours, Pastor has made the time to write four novels, all spanning different genres: Montecristo, Barcelona Shadows, L'any de la plaga and Bioko. He described Montecristo, an adventure story set during World War II, as something of a cross between the Indiana Jones series and the film The Dirty Dozen. His third novel straddles the horror and sci-fi genres; Pastor likened it to a remake of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And his most recent novel, Bioko, is a colonial adventure with some science fiction elements.
But it's his second novel, Barcelona Shadows, that has garnered Pastor the most acclaim--it won the Crims de Tinta prize in 2008 and is the only one of his books to so far be published in English (Mara Faye Lethem translated the novel from the Catalan, and Pushkin Press released the English version earlier this year). Set in Barcelona in 1911, it tells the story of Enriqueta Martí, a former prostitute who turned to kidnapping, selling and murdering children. Martí, also known as "the vampire of Barcelona," really existed, and Pastor did an exhaustive amount of research to bring both her, and the time period, to life.
"The first time I heard the story of Enriqueta, I didn't know anything about her," Pastor said. "And I didn't know anything about the city where she lived." He had thought of Barcelona at the turn of the 20th century as a "shining city," renowned for its artists and architects and thinkers. But, Pastor said, "I didn't know how creepy and dark it was, too."
For Pastor, Enriqueta and Barcelona are the novel's two main characters, and as he did his research, he was surprised to find how similar they were. "Both were bipolar, both had two faces," he explained. "Both are shiny and dark, and they change their faces depending on the neighborhood and the people."
When it came to telling the story of Enriqueta, Pastor faced a "critical decision": whether to stick as closely to the facts as possible or to invent. "I think the easiest way to tell this story would be as a journalist, like making a timeline," said Pastor. "But I didn't want to make that. I wanted to make fiction, I wanted to write a novel. It was very clear. I would maybe change some facts, but I would respect what really happened."
For the novel, Pastor invented the police inspector Moisés Corvo, who leads the investigation into Martí's killings. In reality, there was no investigation; Martí was apprehended more or less by accident. But Pastor decided that by adding Corvo, he could create a better narrative, and he used his own experience as a criminal investigator not only to color but also to add credibility to the fictional Martí investigation.
"I call it a cocktail," mused Pastor. "Things that happen to me in my job finally get into my books. I disguise them. I see a reaction of a victim, I hear the words a killer says when he is arrested, or I see a crime scene. I mix them like a cocktail and shake it and finally write it."
An investigation in 2006 was particularly important to Pastor and to the writing of Barcelona Shadows. For two months that year there was another female serial killer in Barcelona, one who would befriend elderly women, lure them back to their apartments and then strangle them. "We were on that investigation for two months," recalled Pastor, who at the time was struggling to understand and write about a female serial killer like Enriqueta Martí. "It was horrible; the worst time in my job, ever," he said. "We worked 24 hours a day, knowing that we were fighting the clock, because every murder was quicker than the last. She tasted blood and she wanted more. And we had a lot of frustration in the investigation."
When the killer was finally apprehended, Pastor was able to see her and look into her eyes. "I thought, that's Enriqueta," he recounted. His novel, then, is the tale of two investigations. "In Barcelona Shadows, I'm talking about Enriqueta, but I'm also talking about the psychopath we chased in Barcelona for two months in 2006." --Alex Mutter