Reseña: Sabotaje Olímpico de Manuel Vázquez Montalbán

This post is bilingual, scroll down to find the English language version

Editorial Planeta. Colección Booket: noviembre 2008. 174 pages. ISBN: 978-84-08-08390-0. (Serie Carvalho #17 first published in 1993)

Sabotaje olímpico fue concebida como una anticrónica de los Juegos Olímpicos de Barcelona que se publicó en capítulos en el suplemento olímpico de EL PAÍS. Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (Barcelona, 1939) ha dejado reposar la historia y la ha reelaborado desde la visión de una Barcelona y una España del verano de 1993, cuando todos los fastos y la alegría del 92 ya han acabado y la palabra crisis está en boca de todos. (Rosa Mora).

Carvalho se ha encerrado en su casa con suficiente comida, preparado para permanecer allí durante la celebración de los Juegos Olímpicos de Barcelona. Su aislamiento es roto bruscamente cuando tiene que investigar un sabotaje olímpico.

Lo que sigue es, en mi opinión, un disparate total. Probablemente el peor libro de la serie.

Mi calificación: 1/5

Olympic Sabotage by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán

Olympic Sabotage was conceived as a chronicle in opposition to the Barcelona Olympic Games that was serialised in the Olympic supplement of the Spanish newspaper ‘El Pais’. Manuel Vazquez Montalban (Barcelona, 1939) left to rest the original story and he elaborated it again during the summer of 1993 when all the pomp and celebrations of 92 were over and the word crisis is in everyone’s talk. (Rosa Mora).

Carvalho has locked himself in his house with enough food, prepared to remain there for the celebration of the Olympic Games in Barcelona. His isolation is suddenly broken when he is called to investigate an Olympic sabotage.

What follows is all nonsense, in my opinion. Probably the worst book in the series.

My rating: 1/5

Manuel Vázquez Montalbán

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.

DMVM – Asesinato en el Comité Central – Manuel Vazquez Montalbán

Murder in the CCAsesinato en el Comité Central. Manuel Vázquez Montalbán. Planeta 1981. 298 p. ISBN: 84-320-5542-5.

I’ve just begin to read this year, as a personal challenge, the complete Carvalho series by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán in order of publication. I did read most of these books when they were first published. In my opinion they provide an excellent account of the social and political changes that took place in Spain from 1974 until his death in 2003.

I started last January with his first detective novel Tattoo (Tatuaje, 1974). Although Pepe Carvalho made his first public appearance in Yo maté a Kennedy (1972), this book does not belong to the genre. What Montalban did was to borrow his character because it just suit him well when he bet he was able to write in a fortnight a detective novel (Tattoo).

Asesinato en el Comité Central was published by Planeta in 1981. It was written between April 1979 and January 1981. In English it was first published by Pluto Press, London in 1984 as Murder in the Central Committee. In my personal count this is Carvalho series # 4.

In this case Pepe Carvalho leaves his hometown Barcelona and heads to Madrid. This will give him the opportunity to submit Madrid to a close scrutiny. Carvalho has been hired by the Spanish Communist Party to investigate the murder of their Secretary General Fernando Garrido. He must join forces with the official investigation, lead by the anti-communist Fonseca, with whom Carvalho (a former communist and former CIA agent) has an unsettled past. Asesinato en el Comite Central

The facts are that the lights went off during a meeting of the Central Committee. Everybody suspects it’s just a power failure, but when the lights returned after a short period of time, Fernando Garrido was slumped over the table. Somebody had stabbed him to death.

As a political thriller it was great fun back in 1981 to identify who, in real life, was behind each character. However I’m very much afraid that this book doesn’t pass well the test of time. Although it is wonderfully written, we are left with an unfinished plot in which too many questions remain unanswered and unless you are very much interested in Spanish history or in the history of the Spanish Communist Party, it might be difficult for you to find it very attractive.

Manuel Vázquez Montalbán in Wikipedia

Fantastic Fiction

Amazon and Amazon UK

DMVM – Los mares del Sur (1979)

Los mares del Sur
Manuel Vázquez Montalbán
Editorial Planeta
Primera edición: noviembre de 1979 (153.000 ejemplares)
290 p.
ISBN: 84-320-5394-5 (encuadernación)

La policía persigue a unos ladrones de poca monta que han robado un coche. Uno de estos ladronzuelos se esconde durante su huída en un solar abandonado, pero no tiene escapatoria alguna. Por casualidad se encuentra el cadáver de un hombre. El cuerpo corresponde a un rico industrial, Carlos Stuart Pedrell, que llevaba cerca de un año desparecido y aparece ahora apuñalado. Todos los indicios apuntaban a que se había marchado a algún lugar de la Polinesia, a los mares del Sur. El abogado de la familia, acompañado por su viuda, visita al detective privado Pepe Carvalho. No les importa tanto que se encuentre al asesino como conocer qué hizo Stuart Pedrell durante ese año. Le piden absoluta discreción, hay mucho en juego.

Como bien ha señalado Jorge L. Catalá Carrasco en su artículo Eclecticismo y diversidad en Los mares del Sur, Vázquez Montalbán utiliza los recursos de la novela negra (el detective, el crimen, la investigación, el desenlace final), pero introduce otros originales que le permiten crear una obra nueva. En concreto se refiere al carácter epicúreo del detective, a las numerosas referencias culturales, a su sistemática quema de libros, al erotismo, a la utilización de términos pertenecientes a diversas jergas y al humorismo. Gracias a estos elementos MVM consigue “una novela coral y polimórfica, que se presta a diversas lecturas y a diversos lectores, en un juego implícito que establece el escritor con su audiencia”.

Los mares del Sur forma, junto con La soledad del manager y Asesinato en el Comité Central, la llamada trilogía de la transición, una crónica social y política de su época que, en este caso concreto contiene también claras referencias al desarrollo inmobiliario y urbanístico de la Barcelona de la posguerra, origen de la fortuna de los Stuart Pedrell.

Con esta novela, la tercera de la serie según mi cuenta, consiguió MVM el Premio Planeta 1979, lo que supuso su consagración como novelista. Hay quien la considera la mejor novela de la serie aunque yo, de momento, espero leer el resto antes de emitir mi opinión. En cualquier caso si considero que nos encontramos con una novela mucho más compleja y mejor construida que las dos anteriores. Con independencia de la lectura que hagan espero que entren en el juego que nos propone MVM y que la disfruten al menos tanto como yo.

Si quieren pueden visitar también:
La novela como pretexto, reseña de Rafael Conte
Leer por leer
Las sendas del desencanto: Los mares del sur de Manuel Vázquez Montalbán. (PDF)
Biografía de MVM
International Noir Fiction
Serpent’s Tail

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