Manuel Vázquez Montalbán was one of the leading Spanish authors and intellectuals of the second half of the twentieth century. He was not only a keen observer of Spanish society, particularly during the period of transition from the Franco dictatorship to a modern European democracy, but also a severe critic of modern global politics, economics, and popular culture. His detective series around his alter ego, the private investigator Pepe Carvalho, therefore serves both as a stepping-stone in the development of detective fiction in Spain, more or less nonexistent during the Franco regime, and as an appropriate device for the investigation of modern Spanish social history.
Not surprising considering Vázquez Montalbán’s family background, his investigation into Spanish social history was somewhat slanted to the left of the political spectrum, focusing on the mainly clandestine, Franco-fascist pockets still not only in existence but also very influential in Spanish business and politics during and after the transition. In this respect, the Carvalho series offers a perspective very similar to that of the German detective novel immediately after World War II. In his later works in the Carvalho series, Vázquez Montalbán widened the scope of his detective’s investigations, both geographically and thematically, from Spain to all of Europe, until in his last, posthumously published work, Milenio Carvalho (2004; the Carvalho millennium), his critical purview included global famine, international terrorism, and the economic devastation of developing countries.
The Carvalho series is thus a fortuitous combination of the best of hard-boiled detective fiction in the mold of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels with mainstream political fiction. After brief experimentations, Vázquez Montalbán rejected postmodernist metafictional prose techniques for a neorealist approach.