Manuel Vázquez Montalbán Essay - Critical Essays


The beginning of Manuel Vázquez Montalbán’s Carvalho series coincides with the beginning of the modern Spanish detective novel and plays a large part in its history. The first novel in the series, Yo maté a Kennedy, was not originally intended as the first novel of a series. It was one of the last works of Vázquez Montalbán’s so-called subnormal period, characterized by neorealist, postmodernist fiction, which takes its name from the author’s Manifesto subnormal, in which he finds that the writer has the subnormal task, particularly in a dictatorial society, of providing a counterbalance to social stability and harmony, which leads to a sense of alienation. This sense of alienation of Vázquez Montalbán’s detective hero is very similar to that found in the American hard-boiled detective novels of Raymond Chandler and others. Vázquez Montalbán freely admits to having been inspired by Chandler and his protagonist Philip Marlowe in the creation of Pepe Carvalho and the moral landscape of the series.

While his second novel, Tatuaje, still retains some features such as the collage and intertextuality of Yo maté a Kennedy, the third novel in the series is the first of what Vázquez Montalbán has called his chronicle novels, a term designed to define his detective’s investigations into a historical era—initially that of the transition of Spain from Franquism to democracy and in the later novels the transition from national and regional cultures to the advent of globalization.

Vázquez Montalbán’s detective, Pepe Carvalho—his full name is José Carvalho Tourón—was born, like the author’s father, in the northwestern Spanish province of Galicia in the little village of Souto and later moved to Barcelona. Pepe is a passionate and expert gourmet cook, and he used to be a voracious reader with a large library, which he now burns book by book in his fireplace. He has frequent love affairs, in addition to his relationship with Charo, his longtime girlfriend, but finds it impossible to commit himself to any stable attachment.

To underline his role as an outsider, Pepe surrounds himself with a group of people who are from the margins of modern Spanish society. His girlfriend Charo is a prostitute; his general factotum and cook is the eccentric Biscuter, who was his cell neighbor during his time in jail. He also associates with Francisco Melgar, known as Bromuro, a shoeshine man and his main informer, who got his name because he paranoically maintains that the government puts bromide into the public water supply to sedate any urges and desires in the population. Another frequently recurring figure is Inspector...

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