Lluís-Anton Baulenas: Alfons XIV : un crim d’estat [Alfonso XIV: A Crime of State]
Alfonso XIII was the last King of Spain before the Civil War. He had married Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. The couple officially had six children. Alfonso had also fathered six known illegitimate children. Not surprisingly, the marriage was not a very happy one. His heir was Alfonso, Prince of Asturias who sustained minor injuries in a car crash but, because he had haemophilia, he died as a result, predeceasing his father. Historically, Juan Carlos, son of their fourth son, Juan, did succeed to the throne after Franco’s death but as a constitutional monarch, not as an absolutist monarch as Franco had intended. The other male claimant, Jaime, older brother of Juan, was persuaded to renounce his claim and that of his descendants (one of whom was called Alfonso) because of his deafness and because he was partially mute. The current King of Spain is Felipe VI, son of Juan Carlos. There has not been, to date, an Alfonso XIV outside this novel.
In this story, Victoria Eugenie left her husband for a while and returned to England. While there, she realised that she was pregnant. However, her husband insisted that he was not the father, though Victoria Eugenie assured him that she had never been unfaithful to him and that the child was his. However, he continued denying the child. As a result, when the boy was born, he was placed with a family of Spanish origin in Scotland. Neither the family nor the boy knew of his true origins. By the time that Alfonso came to accept the child as his, not least because he looked like him, it was too late to suddenly reveal him. The child became known as Felipe Heredero and became a designer and producer of porcelain in Switzerland. (Heredero is the normal Spanish word for heir, which is, of course, apposite, but it has also a secondary, related and equally apposite meaning. To say that someone is a heredero of their parent means not just that that are a heir but that they take after the parent.) After the death of Alfonso in 1941, Franco learned of Felipe and decided that he would make a good heir, as Franco did not like Juan or Juan Carlos. This became more important when Franco suffered what was officially a hunting accident but looked more like sabotage, not least because he became more aware of his own mortality. Franco had awarded a huge number of state contracts to Heredero and, as a result, he was very rich, though not married. Like two of his brothers, he had haemophilia.
However, the story starts with Captain José Licinio Tutusaus, a skilled killer. (We learn his first names just before the end of the book; he is known by everyone, including himself, as Tutusaus throughout the book.) He has served in the army where he was seen in action by General Pozos, a close associate of Franco. Tutusaus, in a battle in Morocco, killed fourteen men. Pozos was impressed. He was even more impressed when he learned that Tutusaus was knowledgeable about plant-based poisons. Tutusaus is a solitary man, with no family that we know of. (We gradually learn of his background and how he acquired his knowledge of poisons during the course of the novel.) Pozos has set him up on a farm between Barcelona and Madrid, but isolated from the world. He is called upon to kill enemies of the state. He is very effective at this for two reasons. He seems to have a way of ingratiating himself with the victims and gaining their trust and also because his poisons are undetectable and make it look as though the victim has died of a heart attack.
One day, Pozo visits Tutusaus to tell him about Felipe Heredero. Though Franco has not announced his intentions as regards his successor, it seems that he is leaning towards Heredero. It is important to determine firstly whether Herrero has any suspicion of who he really is and also if he is trustworthy. Accordingly, a plan is concocted to get Tutusaus to meet Heredero, and find out what his intentions are. If his intentions are bad, Tutusaus will kill him. If they are good, Tutusaus must protect him and make sure that no-one else is trying to kill him.
We follow the investigations of Tutusaus and Pozos in some detail and they learn a lot about Heredero. Franco himself even makes an appearance. The rest of the book is a very complicated plot involving treachery, car chases, lots of dead bodies and some really bad weather. No-one really comes out well.
A quick note about the title of the book. In Catalan and Spanish it is called Alfonso XIV. Catalans and Spaniards will undoubtedly immediately recognise the oddity, in that there has never been an Alfonso XIV in Spain. Other nationalities probably would not. As a result, in the only other language into which has been translated – French – the title is different. The French title is Combat de chiens, i.e. Dogfight. This is particularly relevant, as Tutusaus is somewhat obsessed with dogs. In the wood behind his farm, there are groups of feral dogs. One such group confronts him and he just about manages to escape. The next time he takes a gun and kills two of them. He also uses dogs for his poison experiments. He will continue to be fascinated with dogs throughout the book and they will appear here and there on several occasions. Dogfight, of course, also has another meaning, namely a one-on-one aerial battle as in the two world wars. There are no aerial battles here but there are certainly one-on-one terrestrial battles.
The main story is, of course, the plot, involving the possibility of Heredero succeeding Franco as Head of State. Baulenas gives us a fascinating story about Pozos, Tususaus and Heredero and what does (and does not) happen regarding the possible future Alfonso XIV.
However, in my view, the main interest is the character of Tususaus. Here is a a man who has become a hired killer, not for a Mafia-type organisation but for the Spanish state. He is a man who is fiercely loyal to his two superiors, Pozos and Franco. When he meets Franco, he manages to take a surreptitious photo of him and will keep it in his wallet and will regularly look at it, in the same way that normal people might look at the photo of a loved one. Yet, at the same time he is fiercely loyal to what he sees as his principles. He also, on more than one occasion, acts in what can only be called an irresponsible manner and it is this that makes him more fascinating. He is not simply an automaton, as he seems at first sight, but is a complicated character, certainly more complicated than the other characters in the book.
Sadly, this book is not available in English and, I would presume, is not likely to be. I suspect that publishers felt that English-speaking readers would not be interested in what might seem as an abstruse aspect of Spanish politics. This is a mistake for, while the abstruse aspect of politics is there, it is not all that is the book is about and, as long as you have heard of Franco, the rest is not complicated to follow. One of Baulenas’ books has been translated into English – Per un sac d’ossos (For a Sack of Bones) – about the Spanish Civil War – but I prefer this one.
First published 1997 by Columna
No English translation
First published in French as Combat de chiens by Flammarion in 2005
First published in Spanish as Alfonso XIV: un crimen de estado by Belacqua in 2006