At times of stress everyone needs a little escape. Gentle readers, we’re going to offer you Euronoir– the genre of crime, murders, mysteries and general skulduggery in the lands of our Allies. Yes, you’ll never surpass the American masters like Hammett and Chandler. But you can be just as good. And no, we haven’t read it all, we’re on a journey of discovery as well. Let’s tell you about what we’ve found so far.
Maestro of the Euro mystery novel is Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (1939-2003) who brought the world a tough private eye called Pepé Carvalho. Something of an outsider-he hails from Galicia and, unlike our other characters, has no Police department to back him up. Pepe’s adventures began in Barcelona of the 1970s. A grainy treacherous world of criminals, whores and big shots set against the background of Spain’s lumpy transition from Francoist Dictatorship to fragile democracy , with all its moral compromises. As the series progressed, Carvalho’s pursuit of murderers spread out across the world, giving him ample opportunities to pursue his spare time interests of fine food and accommodating ladies. We recommend the early work Tatuaje (1974) as a starter.
There is no greater tribute to a writer than another great writer paying him homage. That’s why Andrea Camilleri (1925-2019) named his detective Salvo Montalbano. Geddit? Those of you who have seen the TV series will know how this intelligent, grumpy man negotiates his way through the underbelly of modern Sicily. He has problems enough with subordinates, criminals and the local Mafia. But the real angst is from the network of well-padded police chiefs, politicians and judges who sit above him: Camilleri’s oblique slant on the mores of his society and the way it functions, or does not. Like his Spanish ancestor, Salvo is a bit of a gourmet, and is not immune to the charms of the female of the species. For an intriguing, funny and deeply moving mystery we recommend Il Cane di Terracotta (1996) which we know you will find in English and Spanish!
The moody atmosphere of Galician rías and fishing towns is captured by Domingo Villar (b1971). His chain smoking Policeman Leo Caldas and his good natured, violent side kick Rafael Estévez pursue their killers against a background of tight-knit suspicious communities, dark secrets and their own bickerings and doubts. Leo’s personal cross is being forced to make regular contributions to a local radio show whose vacuous host is a cryptic synecdoche of the shallowness of much of modern society. La playa de los ahogados (“beach of the drowned”, 2006) is a great place to start, but you’ll find the translation sold as Death on a Galician Shore.
Spain is a land of competing jurisdictions, There’s a Guardia Civil, a Policia Nacional, a Policia Municipal and other forces in certain regions, all jealously guarding their respective rights, labs, crime scenes and shares of the pot. So Lorenzo Silva‘(b 1966) makes Guardias Ruben Bevilacqua and his assistant Virginia Chamorro negotiate any number of tripwires before they get near a murderer or a witness. Spanish readers will have guessed that Ruben too is a bit of an outsider, having been born in Uruguay, and it doesn’t help his concentration that Chamorro, like Spain, is both attractive, and yet quite unavailable. We won’t spoil El Alquimista Impaciente(2011) too much except it’s got something to do with dirty dealings in a nuclear power station. Which makes it rather scary, especially now.
As we set off to discover more, we hope you will too. Next time you’re on holiday remember-behind the hotels bars and cafés there may be murky goings-on. Salud!
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