Aficionados of colorful Spain and its exuberant culture would do well to discover the histories and novels by American-born author Jason Webster. It’s guaranteed that the reader will return again and again for such well-written and insightful fiction and non-fiction. Webster’s books are filled with intrigue and his characters embody all the passionate flaws and strengths of human nature. The sweeping background for his books are the vivid historic events that brilliantly set the scene for some of the best crime and spy novels to be found in bookstores and in libraries today.
Mr. Webster’s keen understanding of gay issues make his writing even more appealing for LGBT readers, not only in openly gay Spain (recently voted the most gay-friendly country on earth in a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center) but around the world.
Brought up in England, Jason Webster lived for many years in Valencia. His acclaimed non-fiction books about Spain include Duende: A Journey in Search of Flamenco; Andalus: Unlocking the Secrets of Moorish Spain; Guerra: Living in the Shadows of the Spanish Civil War; Sacred Sierra: A Year on a Spanish Mountain and the just-published historical thriller The Spy with 29 Names.
Webster is also the author of the Max Cámara series of crime novels, the first of which, Or the Bull Kills You, was long-listed for the CWA Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards New Blood Dagger 2011. This was followed by A Death in Valencia, The Anarchist Detective and the soon-to-be-released Blood Med.
To learn first-hand more about Mr. Webster, he charmingly agreed to an interview for our Examiner.com readers:
Out and Travelin’: Jason, thank you for agreeing to give us some insight into the inner workings of your extensive and highly readable body of work.
Without giving away the story, our LGBT readers might find it fascinating to discover the gay characters that appear in your novel Or The Bull Kills You. The way in which they are treated by policeman Max is intriguing. There is a certain melancholy which pervades Max’s personality, which, in a way, also reflects the personality of Valencia. Can you elaborate on Max’s character and our comparison to his mood and that of the city?
Jason: Max is a very non-judgmental character - I think it’s one of the things I find most attractive about him. And it reflects how a certain sector of Spanish society regards sex and sexuality in general - as nothing more complicated than a natural and healthy human need. So his ‘discovery’ in the novel that one of the other characters was gay is no big deal for him - in fact his lack of prejudice in these matters makes it easier for him to see what others had been blind to.
Certainly there’s a melancholy side to Max as well, although that lessens as the series moves on. It’s largely to do with traumatic events in his past - which are properly dealt with in the third novel, The Anarchist Detective. But certainly - again - this reflects something about Valencia and Spain as a whole. It’s a country where the wounds of the past never seem to heal properly. History is very much alive and fundamental to national, regional and individual identities.
Out and Travelin’: Politics in any society is always a dirty business. A reader realizing that your novels, based in Valencia, illustrated vividly the power and corruption of some elected officials in that city. Not to be too personal, but did the political climate in Spain have anything to do with your recent move to the UK?
Jason: I’m still very much connected to Valencia, and spend a considerable amount of time there, so I see myself as being between the two countries. The move was centered on personal and family issues, but the social climate in Spain at the moment was a factor. The recession [in Spain] has had a huge effect and people who are very close to us are suffering - losing their homes to the banks, surviving off food charity hand-outs. Many friends have already got out, and plenty of those that haven’t are looking for the exit.
Out and Travelin’: We hope to include a video of you speaking about Or The Bull Kills You in this piece. We’re impressed with your on-camera presence and ease of ‘chatting’ about your work. Has your marriage to a Flamenco personality has given you the confidence that you exhibit on screen, or are you just naturally an extrovert?
Jason: Recently I’ve started to wonder about these labels ‘introvert’ and ‘extrovert’. It’s common for people to say they’re either one or the other. But I find I can be both, and I’m sure most people can be as well. Certainly when I was younger I was quite shy, but we had a good drama department at my school and I did quite a bit of acting, so that might have helped. I can’t be sure. But living in Spain for so long has probably had an effect as well - a mild-mannered, apologetic ‘British’ manner doesn’t get you far when dealing with most Spanish people: you’re expected to do things with un par de cojones.
Out and Travelin’: Your history and travel books, which include Andalus are scholarly without being dry, and, in our opinion, illustrate history with passion – making those who have come before us real people whose lives are as complex and complicated as our own. Is there any one factor or series of events that inspired your zest for history, and especially for the complex history of the Iberian Peninsula?
Jason: It must be the Moorish period of Spanish history. I fell in love with the Alhambra when I was about 14 - I thought it was the most spectacular thing in the world (although it was a love affair from a distance - it took me several years to finally go and visit it). As a teenager I used to devour books about Moorish culture. All those great poets, thinkers and scientists! Averroes, Ibn Tufail, Ibn Arabi, Ibn Zuhr, Maimonides… and they flourished at a time when Europe was a total backwater. I became obsessed with the idea that Western civilization owed a huge, unacknowledged debt to the Moors - that the Renaissance would never have happened had it not been for the interchange of knowledge from the Islamic to the Christian world in the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Ages. That idea excited me, because I felt it was practically unknown (it is better recognized today). And I’m still fascinated by it now. With Andalus I feel I only scratched the surface - there’s plenty more to say about the subject.
Our interview with Jason at a close, we remembered something an old friend once told us: “Everything I know about life I’ve learned from novels.” In the case of the novels of Jason Webster – and his insights into human nature – that statement rings of universal truth. To get the most out of the Detective Max Cámara series, start with Or The Bull Kills You, and continue from there.
Reviews for The Spy With 29 Names are rolling in: "Unputdownable" Daily Mail UK;
"Riveting" The Independent UK; "Gripping and stylish" The Spectator UK.
Visit these websites for more about Jason Webster and his endlessly exciting and beautifully written books: http://thespywith29names.com/
http://www.jasonwebster.net/ or visit Jason Webster on FB.
Written and interviewed by Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Out and Travelin’