Monday, October 26, 2009

Ex-cop, ex-Marxist, gourmet noir (Books - Tattoo by Manuel Vazquez Montalban)

I received a review copy of the re-issue of of Manuel Vazquez Montalban's Tattoo last week. Serpent's Tail press has reissued several of his Pepe Carvalho mysteries in attractive paperback editions with retro covers. The time is the mid 1970's as Spain is extricating itself from dictatorship. The setting - Barcelona and Amsterdam. The plot is uncomplicated. It features the mystery of a corpse found floating in the sea, its face so badly destroyed he can only be identified by a tatoo. Pepe Carvalho is hired to find out who it was. It was perfect timing for a book like this as I am knocked out by a nasty upper respiratory bug and was in desperate need of something occupying and not too heavy. This is noir with a wink. Montalban's Carvalho is a hardboiled philosopher who has checked out of caring too much about anything except sex and food, or as Montalban writes:
'What are you exactly? A cop? A Marxist? A gourmet?'

'I'm an ex-cop, an ex-Marxist and a gourmet.'

What I enjoyed most is how Montalban didn't merely dress up a classic mystery with Carvalho's quirks. He informed even his detective's crime solving skills with these same characteristics:
His mind began to fill with the old logic that sought links between cause and effect, between good and evil. But as soon as this logic became demanding and insistent, an alarm bell went off in his head, and he dismissed all the arguments. He wanted nothing more to do with any analysis of the world he lived in. He had long since decided he was on the journey between childhood and old age of a personal, non-transferable destiny, of a life that nobody else could ever live for him, no more, no less, no better, no worse. Everybody else could go get stuffed. He had deliberately restricted his capacity for abstract emotion to what he could get from the landscape around him. All his other emotions were immediate, skin deep.
This is a man who uses old copies of Don Quixote from his library of several thousand volumes as kindling so that he can have the comfort of a fire while he eats the bacalhao he prepared. You will sooner see him sauteeing onions and tomatoes than packing a pistol and trailing suspects, though he does his reluctant share of those more typical detective-like activities as well. Carvalho may be nihilistic but Tattoo is entertaining as well as swift-moving. I noticed that there is another mystery set in Buenos Aires. I may try that one next.

1 comment:

Pete said...

Sounds like a good light read while you recover from your bug. I don't read much crime fiction these days but they're entertaining and not too demanding so I really should. Hope you get better soon.