Sunday, June 10, 2012
Featured: Manuel Vázquez Montalbán
Born in Barcelona in 1939, MANUEL VÁZQUEZ MONTALBÁN (1939–2003) was a member of Partit Socialista Unificat de Catalunya (PSUC), and was jailed by the Franco government for four years for supporting a miners’ strike. A columnist for Madrid’s El País, as well as a prolific poet, playwright, and essayist, Vázquez Montalbán was also a well-known gourmand who wrote often about food. The nineteen novels in his Pepe Carvalho series have won international acclaim, including the Planeta prize (1979) and the International Grand Prix de Littérature Policière (1981), both for Southern Seas. He died in 2003 in Thailand, on his way home to Barcelona.
The Buenos Aires Quintet
The Argentine army’s “Dirty War” disappeared 30,000 people, and the last thing Pepe Carvalho wants is to investigate one of the vanished, even if that missing person is his cousin. But blood proves thicker than a fine Mendoza Cabernet Sauvignon, even for a jaded gourmand like Pepe, and so at his family’s request he leaves Barcelona for Buenos Aires.
What follows is perhaps Manuel Vázquez Montalbán’s masterpiece: a combination white-knuckle investigation and moving psychological travelogue. Pepe quickly learns that “Buenos Aires is a beautiful city hell-bent on self-destruction,” and finds himself on a trail involving boxers and scholars, military torturers and seductive semioticians, Borges fans and cold-blooded murderers.
And despite the wonders of the Tango and the country’s divine cuisine, he also knows one thing: He’ll have to confront the traumas of Argentina’s past head on if he wants not only to find his cousin, but simply stay alive.
The Angst-Ridden Executive
When Antonio Jauma, a director of the multinational conglomerate Petnay, is murdered, his widow seeks out private investigator Pepe Carvalho, who had met and forgotten the playboy executive after their single chance encounter—back when Carvalho still worked for the CIA.
Jauma was a “womanizer,” according to a friend, “of the least pleasant sense,” and the police have decided that the murder is the work of an unhappy pimp. But Carvalho doggedly pursues his own phlegmatic investigation, with time out for his signature book burning (Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reasoning; Sholokov’s And Quiet Flows the Don), cooking (leek soup and a freshly-caught steamed turbot), and running with his girlfriend Charo, whose last name he can’t remember.
Murder In The Central Committee
At a meeting of the central committee of Spain’s Communist Party, in a room both locked and guarded, general secretary Fernando Garrido is stabbed to death. But the Party refuses to believe it was an inside job.
They turn to former member Pepe Carvalho. But he’s soon out of his depth in unfamiliar Madrid, where he spends nearly as much time investigating the chorizo, lamb-kidneys, and tripe, and the uninspiring selection of wine on offer, as he does murder.
With time out for his signature book burning (Engels’s The Housing Question), cooking (shellfish risotto), and an ill-advised bajativo (cognac, crème de menthe) inspired romp with Gladys, Pepe Carvalho leads a wry and cynical tour through the labyrinth of post-Fascist Spanish politics amid violent jostling for power.
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