Saturday, October 27, 2007

Last of the Carvalho stories

Offside is not the last of the Pepe Carvalho novels by Manuel Vazquez Montalban, but it's the last one I've read (I read them all out of sequence, for no very good reason). Offside is typical of the series in some ways (Pepe's concern with food, the appearance of the regular characters as well as mention of some characters from previous novels, cynical and unresolved ending) but untypical in others (satire on professional football/soccer, death of a running character, more than usual concentration on the urban transformation of Barcelona, and lack of a corpse until two-thirds of the way through the book). The plot is in fact very unusual even for the crime fiction, speaking generally, much less for this unconventional crime writer: the story hinges on the appearance of a series of anonymous notes declaring that "the center forward will die at dusk", the Spanish title of the book. But who the target of the assassination is to be, and the identity of the writer of the notes is very unusual--the reader suspects long before the end that the center forward that Carvalho is hired to protect is not the one who will die, but the reason for the death threats is completely unexpected (was to me anyway). Everyone who has not read the novel should turn their heads away for a moment and plug up their ears: the notes were written by a character who wishes to make a poetic statement, not a criminal one. And another thread of the novel, concerning two junkies that all the other characters keep running into, seems to be related to the plot in one way, only to end up being related in another, as they fall into the midst of a plot to frame (rather than kill) that center forward. Although I don't understand football/soccer enough to appreciate the evident satire, even that part of the story (carried forward through conversations and lectures by the characters who are involved in the two clubs at the center of the book) is nonetheless funny. And Carvalho's frustration (nearly despair, really) at the end of the book is profoundly presented to the reader, as is frequently the case in Vazquez Montalban's works. I wouldn't say that Offside is the place to start with Carvalho (I think in fact that I should have read them in the order they were written, after all), but it's a living document of crime fiction, urban planning, post-industrial culture, the comic detective novel, the new Barcelona, and other things as well--wrapped up compactly in an entertaining novel.

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