Pepe Carvalho Series

Pepe Carvalho, a fictional private eye, is the main character in a series of novels by Spanish writer Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (Barcelona, 1939 – Bangkok, 2003). It is worth noticing that Spanish crime fiction gained international recognition with this series. Montalbán borrowed the name from a character in one of his previous books, Yo maté a Kennedy (1972) but the Carvalho who is a rounded character and makes his leaving in Barcelona as a private eye made his first real appearance in Tatuaje (1974).

In an interview for ‘El País’ in 1997, Vázquez Montalbán explained to Xavier Moret: “In the early ‘70s we were living in a literary dictatorship: either you wrote like Juan Benet or you were a nobody. Young writers were expected to produce a ‘Ulysses’. The rest were just sub-literatures. One day, in the midst of a drinking session with my friend José Batlló, we were taking the piss out of avant-garde literature and he challenged me to write a cops and robbers novel. I accepted the challenge and wrote ‘Tattoo’ in 2 weeks. The reviews were terrible and they accused me of committing professional suicide, of producing a merely commercial book. Writing a crime novel in the rigor mortis of the Spanish culture of that time was considered horrifying. But for me, it was an experimental novel, because Carvalho wasn’t like other detectives. He lived with a whore, burnt books, was an ex-communist and an ex CIA agent”. (Taken from The Shady Tradition of El Raval by Xavier Moret).

My particular interest in the series is pretty well summarised in Wikipedia: Montalbán uses the series, to describe and, in many instances, criticise the political and cultural situation of Spanish society during the last half of the 20th century. For example, the self-destructive process of the Communist Party during the early period of the transition is being described in Asesinato en el Comité Central (Murder in the Central Committee); the fall of Felipe González in the nineties is the background of El Premio (The Prize); and the changes which took place in Barcelona on the occasion of the Olympic Games in 1992 feature in Sabotaje Olímpico.

The correct order –taken from Wikipedia– of the books in the series (some of them published by Serpent’s Tail in English), is:

    • Yo maté a Kennedy(Planeta, 1972) Not a crime fiction book
    • Tatuaje (Batlló, 1974) translated as Tatoo
    • La soledad del manager (Planeta 1977) translated as The Angst-ridden Executive
    • Los mares del sur (Planeta, 1979, Premio Planeta 1979 y Prix International de Littérature Pollicière 1981) translated as Southern Seas
    • Asesinato en el comité central (Planeta, 1981) translated as Murder in the Central Committee
    • Los pájaros de Bangkok(Planeta, 1983)
    • La Rosa de Alejandría(Planeta, 1984)
    • Historias de fantasmas(Planeta, 1987)
    • Historias de padres e hijos(Planeta, 1987)
    • Tres historias de amor(Planeta, 1987)
    • Historias de política ficción(Planeta, 1987)
    • Asesinato en Prado del Rey y otras historias sórdidas(Planeta, 1987)
    • El balneario(Planeta, 1986, Premio Bunche de la Crítica de la R. F. de Alemania)
    • El delantero centro fue asesinado al atardecer (Planeta, 1988, Premio Ciudad de Barcelona) translated as Offside
    • Las recetas de Carvalho(Planeta, 1989) A recipe book
    • El laberinto griego (Planeta, 1991) translated as An Olympic Death 
    • Sabotaje olímpico(Planeta, 1993)
    • El hermano pequeño(Planeta, 1994)
    • Roldán, ni vivo ni muerto(Planeta, 1994)
    • El premio(Planeta, 1996)
    • Antes de que el milenio nos separe. Carvalho contra Vázquez Montalbán (en Carvalho 25 años. Estuche conmemorativo, Planeta, 1997)
    • Quinteto en Buenos Aires (Planeta, 1997) translated as The Buenos Aires Quintet
    • El hombre de mi vida (Planeta, 2000) translated as The Man of My Life 
    • Carvalho gastronómico, vols. 1 a 10(Ediciones B, 2002 y 2003)
    • Milenio Carvalho I. Rumbo a Kabul(Planeta, 2004)
    • Milenio Carvalho II. En las antípodas(Planeta, 2004)
    • Cuentos negros (Galaxia Gutenberg, 2011)




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.

Crime Fiction on a EuroPass – The Lake District (England)

England’s largest National Park includes Scafell Pike – its highest mountain, Wastwater – its deepest lake and thriving communities like Keswick and Bowness-on-Windermere. You can find additional information HERE.

The Lake District has been the setting for crime novels by Reginald Hill, Val McDermid and Martin Edwards. The region is also a recurring theme in Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novella The Torrents of Spring and features prominently in Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam, which won the 1998 Booker Prize (from Wikipedia).

The Lake District Mysteries by Martin Edwards features Detective Chief Inspector Hannah Scarlett and historian Daniel Kind. So far there are five books in the series, The Coffin Trail (2004), The Cipher Garden (2005), The Arsenic Labyrinth (2007), The Serpent Pool (2010) and The Hanging Wood (2011). My review of The Coffin Trail is HERE.

Crime Fiction on a Euro Pass is a community meme hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise. You can check HERE the contribution of other fellow participants.