Ibiza History Culture

Established 1982
Ibiza Artists Anthropology Bibliomania Ecology History Features

Books on Ibiza

Bibliomaniacs' Corner
by Martin Davies

Peter Kinsley
The Spanish Jubilee

Exactly twenty-five years ago last Saturday (15th June) Spain’s first general election in forty years ushered in a brave new era of political liberty. “Too little liberty brings stagnation,” wrote Bertrand Russell, “and too much brings chaos.” This week’s subject, The Pistolero (1980), is a little-known thriller which recalls the charged atmosphere of those years. It is set in a hippified port on the Spanish Levant called Nostrumare, a place which bears more than just a passing resemblance to Ibiza. The author Peter Kinsley, on the island recently to promote his third volume of memoirs, has confirmed that Ibiza provided the underlying inspiration. The alias derives from the giant hotel erected in front of his Playa den Bossa pad, the Mare Nostrum or ‘Hairy Nostril’ to waggish British visitors. A core member of that drink-hardened platoon mentioned in the first article, Kinsley cut his literary teeth in the late fifties as a crime reporter on the Daily Mail and Daily Express and came to Ibiza following a tip-off from the very summit of Mount Parnassus. While running a press agency on the French Riviera in the early 1960s, he was called to Somerset Maugham’s villa one day to publicise an impending auction of masterpieces. When the conversation turned to letters, the wise old lizard - ever keen to assist emerging talent - observed that Spain was where the strangest stories were to be found. Maugham’s nephew - similarly advised, perhaps - was already scribbling away in an elegant villa overlooking our own Cala Pada.

Our legendary island held a special fascination for Kinsley from the very outset, as he explains in his latest volume of memoirs:

I wanted material for a book recalling the Spanish Civil War and what had happened in Ibiza. I had been told that more happened on that island than in any other part of Spain as they were trapped. The anarchists had machine-gunned all the Nationalist prisoners in the cells, and Franco’s army put the same amount of Republican prisoners in the same cells and murdered them. Prisoners had been thrown from the old town onto the rocks below, the pistoleros shot the eldest son of every Republican family, trades unionists and intellectuals, and finally a bishop had to be sent from the mainland to stop the slaughter.

Bogged Down in County Lyric (2002), p. 120

One of Kinsley’s key sources for this was Elliot Paul’s memoir about Santa Eulalia, The Life and Death of a Spanish Town (1937), which contains a dubious Postscript to which we will later return. In the late ‘60s, Kinsley started the regular commute between Es Viver and Ibiza Town, where he joined the ranks of scribblers waiting for Godonlyknows. As an inveterate newshound he had a hunch that something special would eventually surface. In the meantime the local lifestyle held him completely in its thrall:

The drinking day was starting: in another hour the night owls would emerge and do their shopping in the market and make their way to the various foreign bars for their bullshots and Bloody Marys and gin and tonics. Some of them would stay in the bars all day. They would gossip away the hours and forget to eat. Some would pick up their cestas, left in the bar from the night before, to find that the cockroaches had eaten the pork chops or minced meat and they would have to go and shop again. They would make an effort to go to the beach but by the time the first three drinks were consumed it would be too hot. Torn between the bar and the effort of travelling to the beach where it would be cool, with a breeze blowing off the seashore, they would choose to remain in the darkened bar. The Enemy was too much for them today …

The Pistolero (1980), p. 106

I know what he means, even though I’ve yet to see a battalion of cockroaches putting away a pork chop. While the bar-flies were waiting for that Pulitzer-winning plot to come into focus, an event occurred which for most (but happily not our subject) blocked the mental viewfinder even further: the mysterious death on 11th December 1976 of the Hungarian master-forger, Elmyr de Hory - reportedly from an overdose of barbiturates. Throughout The Pistolero, the Elmyr drama features as a riveting sub-plot, light relief if you like against the weightier topics of politics and revenge. In the opening pages, the Hungarian’s morning coffee at the Montesol is interrupted by a sinister character who sets a pistol, a flick-knife and a plastic bomb down on the starched table-cloth and informs the flustered socialite that his birth certificate is about to expire.

In the real-life incident witnessed by the author, the threat came from Elmyr’s accomplice-turned-blackmailer, Fernand Legros. In the novel though, the warning is delivered on behalf of ‘José Gomez’, an aristocratic Ibizan moneylender who decides the time has come for ‘Emile’ (as he is called) to settle the outstanding debts. The former’s eponymous nickname, the ‘Pistolero’, dates back to the momentous year of 1936:

It was as if it had happened yesterday: the night they have him the pistol. Then his first killing, the socialist mayor of the town. He had shot the red dog and then he went out night after night with the señoritos of the Falange and shot the trade unionists, the syndicalists, the Republican schoolteachers, the eldest son of every socialist family in the town, blowing their brains out and burying them in orchards or in the hills, twenty of them to a lorry with the priests giving them the chance of confession before they were despatched. Gomez had shot so many he could not even attempt to remember names or faces, and after that first one, it had become easier and easier …

The Pistolero, p. 94

We have been celebrating the silver jubilee of Spanish democracy, and as Emily Kaufman is covering the Civil War in the history column, the question really has to be asked: were there pistoleros in Ibiza? The answer, as older Ibicencos may confirm, is in the affirmative. The attentive reader might even spot the odd clue regarding the identity of this particular villain. Kinsley first became fully aware of the shadowy figure when he walked into in a local bar one evening, dropping jaws and raising eyebrows all round: the Pistolero had a reputation for never venturing out after nightfall. Was the erstwhile gunman’s life ever really in danger, though? Would an aggrieved local have taken revenge after a gap of forty years? It is time to return to that Postscript.

According to Associated Press reports issued the next day, the Italian and rebel troops, who arrived within a few hours after I was taken off on Die Falke, herded four hundred Republicans, among whom must have been most of the male characters in this book, and killed them with machine-guns through the small Moorish windows.

Elliot Paul, The Life and Death of a Spanish Town (1937), pp. 426-7

There were indeed terrible reprisals, but not apparently on the massive scale Paul set down in print for posterity. (The first casualty in war is the truth). This is not the Bibliomaniac’s home territory and in-depth coverage of the Civil War will be properly left to Emily; suffice it to say that Elliot Paul’s second ‘massacre’ (i.e. the Falangist one) forms the starting point of Kinsley’s thriller. A single prisoner, ‘José Rodríguez Tur’, manages to escape and make his way to England, nursing over the following decades a bitter dream of revenge. It is the 1977 elections which prompt him to set off south in order to lay this ghost to rest, crossing the border illegally as there is still an order out for his arrest.

The plot is given added momentum by the Pistolero’s fondness for a little extra on the side, Figueretes style. Things get out of hand, there is a violent scene and the lippy foreign call-girl ends up dying in the nuns’ hospital. Her barman friend decides that the Pistolero has gone too far this time, and so the race is on between two determined avengers. Here I will stop the narrative to allow readers to discover for themselves its final twists and turns, ingenious to say the least. The coda, I have to be frank, is a little melodramatic, but the author might well have been thinking of a Hollywood tie-in: an option on his first novel, Three Cheers for Nothing (1964), had been taken up by no less a director than John Schlesinger.

The Pistolero was not Peter Kinsley’s first book about Ibiza. By the time he turned his attention to the Civil War, he had finished work on a novelistic memoir called The Green Fairy, a title celebrating the local liqueur (hierbas), an unusual local night-club - the first in Spain where ‘men could dance with men’ and finally Kinsley’s Irish ancestry. The ten chapters which make up The Green Fairy have just appeared in print, concealed within the autobiographical, Bogged Down in County Lyric. As they form a remarkable testament of the old times in Ibiza, they will be the subject of a separate instalment. For now, a taster. The speaker, incidentally, is best-selling Welsh mariner Tristan Jones, whose Yarns (1990) also contains a chapter about Ibiza.

‘That Ibbo fisherman who started the fight thinks I’m nuts. You know why? He and his mate asked me what the English do with all the almonds they buy from the island. They’ve seen the boats loading up for years, sacks of almonds for England. I said they make a paste out of them and put it on top of cakes and sell them for Christmas. I saw them tapping their heads significantly as they walked. Thought I was round the twist - almonds made into paste and spread on cakes - who did I think I was kidding?’

Bogged Down in County Lyric, p. 302

Bogged Down in County Lyric can be obtained directly (25 euro + postage) from Peter Kinsley, telephone: 00 44 (UK) 207 652 2587.

Peter Kinsley, May 2002

Title-page (publisher’s proof)

Martin Davies



Ibiza Authors

Book Reviews

Children's Books
Biographical Portraits
Gaston Vuillier
Novels, Old & New


Egypt and Ancient Ibiza