To be fair, this isn’t really a “crime story,” it’s a narrative that leads up to a crime. But it’s an excellent read, with some striking imagery, and I like it. That’s all the reason I need….
Originally published in 1890, Emilia Pardo Bazán’s “Un destripador de antaño” (“A Ripper of Yesteryear“) tells of the tragic intersection between the lives of a young orphaned peasant girl and a mysterious apothecary. It’s set in the author’s native Galicia, in and around the historic city of Santiago de Compostela, the ending point of the famous pilgrimage known as the Camino de Santiago. The story’s introduction implies that it may be inspired by an old Galician folktale:
The legend of “The Ripper,” the half-sage, half-sorcerer assassin, is a very old one in my homeland. I heard it at a tender age, whispered or chanted in frightful refrains,… I will tell it to you. Enter valiantly with me into the shadowy regions of the soul.
It’s also seems related to a certain Andean folklegend, which I won’t mention here, for fear of spoilers. But if you’re interested, you’ll find a pointer in the footnotes of my translation.
This is a longer piece than I usually share, a novella rather than a short story, and most of the narrative is setting up the stage for the crime, rather than a treatment of the crime itself. It’s also, to me at least, quite a compelling story, and I hope you feel the same.
You can read “A Ripper of Yesteryear” (my translation) at Ephemera:
Given her literary standing, I’m not sure Emilia Pardo Bazán would have appreciated her inclusion in my Classic Crime series. After all, crime fiction is considered by many to be “merely” genre work, and Pardo Bazán was a serious literary critic and writer, one who tried to bring her own brand of Naturalism to Spanish literature.
But, then again, it’s a tale with a crime in it, and since I’ve included Guy de Maupassant—another writer of the Naturalist school—in this series, well, then Doña Emilia is in good company.
I hope you enjoy.
Part of the Classic Crime series.
Featured image: La Ciudad de Santiago, illustration from Seminario pintoresco español (1844). Source: Wikimedia
Detail from Santiago de Compostela, desde atrio Hospital Real, Mariano Pedrero (1906). Source: Wikimedia