Compelling Adventure in a Spanish Village (review)

With Don’t Miss the Fiesta!  journalist and author David Baird (born in Shropshire, England) does a remarkable job both of entertaining and enlightening his readers, writes Miguel Booth, Hispanist, writer and polemicist.

At first glance this engaging book is just a compelling tale of mystery and adventure: Scully, a degenerate British fraudster takes refuge in a remote Andalusian mountain village, bringing with him his baggage of regrets and sordid secrets. But he’s unaware of the mysteries the seemingly innocent village of Benamargo harbors. A hint: The name itself denotes bitterness.

On another level the book is a vibrant fictionalized account of the secret lives of so many real-life Spanish villages which—at the time the story is set, in the 1980s—were still largely trapped between the hammer of the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath, and the anvil of cruel medieval religious “obligations”.

Don’t Miss the Fiesta! is not only a formidable page-turner, but also an authoritative compendium of the ways and mores of Spain’s fast-disappearing rural societies. It’s like being taken on a tour of primitive Samoa by the great cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead.

Your guide is an expert who has personally discovered during years of study every nuance of a fascinating-if-little-known society. 
They are on familiar terms with its exterior manifestations and its most intimate secrets. 

The Benamargos of this world are populated by frank and simple people, cured in adversity and inured with the patience of the poor.

At the same time they are beset by ignorance and envy, religious fanaticism and hypocrisy. And an able manipulator with God on his side can turn these traits into toxic stew, as Scully discovers too late.

Though Spain is fast outgrowing many of these aspects of what they call “la España negra”, in some places many of them still endure. In fact, this book might be a bellwether for the flocks of innocent Brits who are at this very moment lemming their way south to start new lives in “the real Spain”.

On arriving in Benamargo, Scully, the wide boy, congratulates himself on his choice of bolthole, though noting how severely limited and deadly boring it is. Before the story is over, however, he will miss that boredom. He will have befriended a deceitful barman, met up with a particularly unsavory ghost from the past, fallen in love, been betrayed by his most trustworthy friend in the village and demonized by a fanatical priest and his cohort of shrouded and sanctimonious bully boys.

All of these experiences have produced a remarkable transformation in Scully, and just as he is about to meet a spectacular end the author produces a welcome deus ex machina which… But let’s not spoil it for you. There’s a fascinating book here to be read.

NOTE: Don’t miss The Fiesta! is on sale through bookshops, online and as an ebook from Smashwords (

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