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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Summer of Dead Toys

Antonio Hill

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To purchase The Summer of Dead Toys

Title: The Summer of Dead Toys
Author: Antonio Hill
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 355 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Summer of Dead Toys - US
El verano de los juguetes muertos - US
The Summer of Dead Toys - UK
The Summer of Dead Toys - Canada
The Summer of Dead Toys - India
Der Sommer der toten Puppen - Deutschland
L'estate dei giochi spezzati - Italia
El verano de los juguetes muertos - España
  • Spanish title: El verano de los juguetes muertos
  • Translated by Laura McGloughlin

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Our Assessment:

B- : decent writing and okay story, but far too determinedly formulaic

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 18/5/2012 Laura Wilson
The Independent . 18/6/2012 Barry Forshaw
The Times . 19/5/2012 Marcel Berlins

  From the Reviews:
  • "The occasional lack of focus created by a big cast and a large number of disparate ingredients is more than compensated for by excellent characterisation, a sympathetic and engaging protagonist, and plenty of plot twists" - Laura Wilson, The Guardian

  • "The first thing that strikes the reader about Antonio Hill's hugely impressive debut novel is its evocative and atmospheric language (rendered in Laura McGloughlin's nuanced translation). (...) But Hill's book (despite its literary apparel) is a crime novel, and the author whose other speciality is psychology seems to have arrived fully-formed with confidence and authority, peeling back the skeins of deceit and betrayal in a most satisfying fashion." - Barry Forshaw, The Independent

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Summer of Dead Toys is a frustrating novel. Toni Hill -- publishing internationally as 'Antonio Hill', for some reason -- writes reasonably well (albeit with some 'atmospheric' overkill: we get it, it's hot ...), and the crimes being investigated here and what's behind them are reasonably intriguing. Yet you can check off so many of the standard tropes and tricks that this doesn't just come across like a prototypical formulaic police-procedural/thriller but almost a caricature thereof. It's like Hill had a check-list, and then he conceived some characters and a plot around that, and then he filled in the pages in his paint-by-the-numbers exercise. Unfortunately, while he does much competently, he doesn't flesh out nearly enough, and the blueprint remains far too clearly visible beneath his words.
       The setting is contemporary Barcelona, the hero the lone cop with a troubled past, Héctor Salgado. The novel itself covers just a few days (save a very brief postscript, set six months later -- a pure tease for the next volume in the series), progressing in dated sections, Wednesday through Sunday (no time wasted here !). Salgado has just returned from his native Argentina, which he had gone to visit since he had some free time -- suspended for beating the crap out of a bad guy ("What happened was he lost it. No more, no less"). The bad guy is very bad, but they Salgado couldn't pin the death of a poor innocent on him so he took matters into his own hands -- and earned himself a month's forced holiday for his troubles.
       Salgado came to Spain as a student and stayed on, starting a family. That has meanwhile fallen apart: his wife has now left him, but they're still on friendly terms (her reason for leaving a very specific but truly irreconcilable difference). They have a son, but he's visiting a friend and other than a few words over the telephone the kid doesn't figure in this story at all: like so much, he's just another prop (being prepared for the next volume in the series ...).
       Salgado's colleagues are of course a bit wary of the brute now -- especially since his issues with so-called Dr.Omar (the guy he beat up) remain unresolved -- but they value his investigating instincts, because he is, of course, a great cop. The investigations relating to what Dr.Omar was involved in continue, but the boss doesn't want Salgado in on that. Instead, he has a much simpler case for him to look into: nineteen year-old Marc Castells Vidal tumbled out the window of his room after a night spent with two friends. It looks like an accident, but his mom, Joana, isn't satisfied with the official explanations, limited as they are.
       Joana has not been much of a mom to Marc -- in fact, she never saw him after his birth, abandoning him to his father, prominent businessman Enric Catells. Enric now has another wife, and an adopted young daughter. Marc had gotten in touch with Joana recently, and was looking forward to meeting her, and she believes his death might be connected with something he had figured out while away in Dublin, studying (yes, another troubled son sent abroad to study, just like Salgado ...).
       Marc spent his last night with school friends Gina and Aleix. Aleix, son of a prominent conservative pillar of society, was the most brilliant student at their high school, but is also an unpleasant, domineering bully. Suffering his own childhood trauma -- childhood leukemia -- he hasn't made the transition to university life well, either, and has begun dabbling evermore seriously in selling drugs. Gina, meanwhile, is depressed that Marc seems to have found a girl in Dublin -- and, a weak girl, she also remains under the sway of Aleix, especially after Marc's death.
       The Summer of Dead Toys isn't quite a police procedural, since Hill offers the perspectives of various characters involved in the case rather than just unfolding it through the eyes of the police. Frustratingly, he shows characters agonizing over secrets they have or share -- but doesn't reveal what these are to readers until he's good and ready to -- a cheap narrative trick that Hill (ab)uses for some misdirects but which gets to be rather annoying (just spit it out already ...).
       Meanwhile, there's the Dr.Omar subplot. Bad things happen to Dr.Omar. Like they find a very big pig's head on his desk, but no Dr.Omar. And everyone can't help but think that Salgado still has it in for Dr.Omar, and maybe he's really taken it out on Dr.Omara again .....
       The two different criminal investigations don't overlap, but they do both involve, in different ways, Salgado. The Dr.Omar investigation is an annoying distraction that blows up into a potentially catastrophic one -- except it doesn't, with everything (well, the essential parts, for this novel) neatly tied up and figured out in ridiculously few pages. Marc's mysterious tumble is a more complicated case, and one that dredges up some old history, but here too the pieces are shoved into place -- more slowly and patiently, and at greater length -- until it all too neatly resolves itself.
       Hill's checklist continues, from Marc's uncle, a Catholic priest -- and, yes, there's a whiff of long-buried pedophilia to parts of the case, of course -- to Salgado's trusty female sidekick, who has some personal issues of her own to deal with. It's not so bad that all these elements are present -- old standards, sure, but after all how many variations can there be ? -- but rather Hill's perfunctory presentation. This is a novel full of stories and characters that cry out for fuller development -- and it's not that Hill's writing and presentation is lean (that can work too, and that'd be fine), but rather that it is so skeletal: all outline and tricks (guess who Aleix was sleeping with ...), far too little flesh. Given that he deals with some very ugly things here, more exposition is essential; as is, the resolution to the central crime feels like little more than pure sensationalism (and the Dr.Omar-case feels like little more than an afterthought).
       There's lots of potential here -- Hill writes well enough -- but it feels too cut to the bone in too many places. And with his eyes too obviously on the next instalment, too, Hill loses even more focus.
       The Summer of Dead Toys isn't outright bad in any particular way, but it's surprisingly unsatisfying for a thriller that seems to have all the right (even if they are overfamiliar ...) elements. Maybe Hill is playing the long game here, recognizing that if he wants to milk Salgado for a multivolume-series it's best to take his time with his character-development, and only slowly let readers get to know Salgado. Still, with just the first volume in hand, it's damn annoying.

- M.A.Orthofer, 11 December 2013

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The Summer of Dead Toys: Reviews: Toni Hill (Antonio Hill): Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Toni Hill (who publishes internationally as 'Antonio Hill') was born in 1966.

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© 2013 the complete review

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