Suppose, just for a moment, that you found a postcard under your front door with a photograph of a painting currently on display at a local museum. The other side consists of tomorrow's date and a time, both handwritten, nothing more. What would you do? Should your response be to toss the card into the shredder without so much as a second thought, don't bother reading Richard Gwyn's The Color of a Dog Running Away. If, on the other hand, you'd find yourself, palms sweating, in front of that very painting the following day, then this Welsh poet's debut novel will make a valued addition to your bookshelf.

This mystery-thriller is set against the backdrop of Barcelona, home to museums for Picasso and Mir—, Gaud’ architecture littering the landscape with surreal splendor, heat and dust driving the sane indoors to nurse a brandy and agua fria before the afternoon siesta.

After finding the postcard, musician/translator/British expatriate Lucas contends with a mysterious femme noire, a troupe of roof-dwelling gypsies, a megalomaniac cult leader, a motley posse of fellow ŽmigrŽ companions and a constant stream of alcohol and drugs, all of which threaten to unseat him from his formerly placid existence. A kidnapping, near immolation, hospital stay and enforced detox pile on in succession to force him to sanity's ragged edge. Gwyn outlines each character with indelible distinctiveness and brings the city of Barcelona into sharp relief as a key member of the novel's cast. Even minor players, such as a prophetic fire-eater Lucas encounters, may emerge from the shadows to occupy center stage. With Pico Iyer's attention to local color, Samuel Beckett's command of surrealist language, Alfred Hitchcock's sense of foreboding, and Hunter S. Thompson's enthusiasm for reality-altering substances, Gwyn has crafted a dazzling, if disquieting debut. Like Gaud’'s celebrated buildings, it has no straight lines and a dreamlike quality that will imbed itself in your consciousness. Thane Tierney has been known to quaff the occasional Rioja with a slab of Manchego cheese and Spanish olives.

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