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Caminals, Roser: The Street of The Three Beds. University Press Of The South.  $ 29.95.

The inexplicable disappearance of the friend whose existence is then vehemently denied is irresistible. Two great examples exist in movies, Hitchcock’s classic, ‘The Lady Vanishes’, and ‘So Long at the Fair’ directed by Terence Fisher. In the first, Margaret Lockwood meets an old lady on a train who vanishes and whom everybody denies seeing. In ‘So Long at the Fair’ Jean Simmons visits the Paris exhibition and her brother disappears from their hotel. Both movies have a twist that adds to the mystery. In ‘Lady Vanishes’ the sealed train should prevent the old lady or anyone from disappearing and in the movie based on the Paris exhibition the hotel room where her brother stayed actually disappears with the brother. The Paris tale is also known as ‘The Vanishing Hotel Room’. Half the suspense is wondering whether the sympathetic hero will prove her sanity and make sense of the bizarre occurrence. Inevitably, the heroine triumphs but she acquires knowledge she may or may not have been avoiding. The innocence has been weakened. The Paris story is particularly interesting because it shows a society asserting its mastery of the future in the exhibition but one also obliged to hide the consequences of the past, the brother is a plague victim. It is not fundamental to the plot of ‘The Street Of Three Beds’ but it is perhaps no coincidence that towards the end of the book there is a typhus victim and after her death the bourgeois control that was responsible for the mystery finally unravels. 

These days London restaurants have witnessed on several occasions literary agents telling their clients that their next book should be ‘cutting edge’. The term is rarely defined and it has led to many writers substituting foul mouthed nihilistic heroes for a story that actually challenges the mores behind the way we live. The novel by Caminals is based on an urban legend similar to that told about the Paris exhibition. This time, though, the lady disappears from a dress shop and it is set in Barcelona. The story happens at the beginning of the last century and no attempt is made to make the book ‘cutting edge’. The style is faithful to the literature of that time and it is easy to imagine you are reading a book that was written when the events occurred. But ‘The Street Of Three Beds’ is a dark tale that should satisfy the ‘nourish’ tastes of anyone. Here the horror is how the crimes fit so neatly into the subtle deceits of middle class respectability. In this tale from Barcelona, the investigator is a powerful and privileged male. He does not see a different world as the mystery is resolved but his own world differently. Fortunately, he makes the progress his awakened morality demands. He throws away his privileges and inheritance and finally lives ‘unenvied and envy free’. Caminals whose intelligence is obvious understands that this is, of course, the only way to live. Howard Jackson.