An Olympic Death by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán

Original title El laberinto griego by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán. Planeta 1991. 190 pages. ISBN: 84-320-6926-4.

According to the information provided by Editorial Planeta, An Olympic Death is the 16th instalment in Pepe Carvalho series by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán. The Spanish edition was originally published in 1991 under the title El laberinto griego (The Greek Labyrinth). The English language version translated by Ed Emery was first published in 2000 in the US by Serpent’s Tail, if my information is correct. It’s often confused with another title Sabotaje olímpico, Planeta, 1993(Carvalho Mysteries #17) which, to my knowledge, is not available in English.

The action takes place in Barcelona, while the city prepares to host the Olympic Games we find private eye Pepe Carvalho working on two different cases. The first one refers to a seventeen-year-old girl. She was arrested in a drug raid. The police believe she is just a small-scale consumer, however her father wants to discover the truth and hires Carvalho to follow her. The second case involves a missing man, Alekos a young Greek, a model and a painter. The lover of Mademoiselle Claire Delmas, a beautiful woman. Claire Delmas and her friend Monsieur George Lebrun are following his track since he left her apartment in Paris. Alekos, the man of her life, is supposed to be now in Barcelona.

An Olympic Deathfollows Montalban’s classic formula, the action is always accompanied by large meals, recipes, drinks and cigars. In fact, I have counted up to three meals in just one night, without taking into account the amount of alcohol that our “hero” can drink in one day. Both plots are too simple and I have found Pepe Carvalho overly nostalgic, as if he has just become aware of the irreversibility of time. Besides all the characters are stereotyped and grotesque in excess for my taste. On the positive side it can be noted that it’s well written and provides a picture of a Barcelona that no longer exists. I can only recommend this book to staunch followers of Vázquez Montalbán.

El laberinto griego (The Greek Labyrinth) was adapted into a film in 1993, directed by Rafael Alcázar and starring Penélope Cruz, Omero Antonutti, Aitana Sánchez-Gijon, Eusebio Poncela and Carlos Lucena.

8 thoughts on “An Olympic Death by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán”

  1. Jose Ignacio, thanks for the link. I did not rate this novel very highly as the plot was very simple. I am sure the film version with Penelope Cruz was better.
    As London prepares for our Olympics in 2012 I suspect that crime writers might take the opportunity to include that event in their plots.

  2. José Ignacio – Thanks for your fine review. I’d heard elsewhere, too, that the plot wasn’t particularly involving. I’m sorry you didn’t like it more than you did… I think I’ll wait on this one.

  3. Jose Ignacio, my thanks for a most incisive review. This is the sort of review that helps me greatly — so many books, so little time. But may I ask you for your opinion of the works of Montalban in general. The name of Camilleri’s Montalbano is an homage to Montalban, and I’ve always got in mind that he is a crime writer I must read, if I can get hold of a novel or two. But now you have me wondering if perhaps he is not as I good as I’ve been led to believe. What do you think?

    1. Thank you Philip. You have given me the idea for a post. I was quite fond of Montalban at a time and I even started to read all his Carvalho Mysteries in order. A project I did not finished. There are not too many books available in English and some have not aged very well. I have reviewed “Tattoo” (1974, the first one in the series in my opinion), “The Angst-Ridden Executive” (1977) and “Southern Seas” (1979). My favourite is “Southern Seas”. I would not recomend “Murder in the Central Committee” (1981). From the rest of his books (translated) I have only read “An Olympic Death” (1991), but plan to read in the near future “Offside” (1988), “The Buenos Aires Quintet” (1997) and “The Man of My Life” (2000). I’m given you the years for the correct order. I have great memories of two of his books that are not available in English, “Los pájaros de Bangkok” (The Birds of Bangkok) 1983 and “La rosa de Alejandría” (Alexandria’s Rose) 1984. Montalban was very prolific, there are about 23 books in the series and I have only read seven. At this point my interest on his work is also “archaeological”, since his books offer an interesting picture of the changes in Spain during the last thirty years.

  4. Wonderful, Jose Ignacio, thank you so much. I shall look forward to that post. Your last sentence is interesting — you have the instincts of an historian. I never did it myself, for in my special fields there is nothing appropriate, but historians do sometimes include works of fiction in course reading lists precisely because they can provide insight into a particular period or, as in your reference to Montalban and Spain, changes over a period of time. The journal ‘Literature and History’, which comes from the Manchester University Press, is devoted to this area, and I remember one article that focused on two mystery/crime writers: a study of gender, domesticity and modernity as reflected in the works of Celia Fremlin and Daphne du Maurier. Fremlin is rarely mentioned these days, but she was a first-class crime novelist. I’d like to see reprints or new editions of her books, but there are so many authors of who the same is true. My thanks again, Jose Ignacio.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: