Barcelona Noir: Descovering the City’s Secrets with Its Best Detective

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BCNegra 2017

Barcelona Noir: Descovering the City’s Secrets with Its Best Detective

The story of a city is also a story of its famous detectives and the authors who created them. It is difficult to imagine Victorian London without Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, 20th-century Paris without Georges Simenon’s Jules Maigret, or Los Angeles in the 1940s without Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. In the case of Barcelona, such a detective was created in the 1970s. Shortly after Franco’s death, the well-known writer and journalist Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (1939-2003) invented the private eye Pepe Carvalho who became one of Barcelona’s foremost trademarks – alongside with its great climate, its inspirational food scene and its outstanding architecture that attract people from all over the world to come and stay in one of the city’s hotels, hostels or touristic apartments.

Barcelona Columbus Statue (Foto: Benjamin Voros)

Barcelona Columbus Statue (Foto: Benjamin Voros)

Carlvalho was more than just a detective investigating tricky criminal cases. As a literary creation he was supposed to help Vázquez Montalbán to talk about Spain’s difficult transition to democracy after decades of Francisco Franco’s authoritarian rule. Thus, the writer was able to offer his readers great entertainment while talking about his country’s and his city’s most pressing problems. To be sure, not all of Carvalho novels were well written. Sometimes Vázquez Montalbán, who was heavily committed to left-wing political activism, seemed to forget that rather few people read because they want to get more politics. However, in most cases the audience and literary critics liked his mix of riveting detective fiction and acid social commentary.

Carvalho’s Comeback in 2018

After Vázquez Montalbán’s death in 2003 Barcelona has lost one of his smartest observers. Once his creator disappeared, Carvalho was forced to retire from his trade. For years he could not uncover the city’s dark secrets and make the readers see the problems that surround them. However, in January 2017 Xavi Ayén, one of Barcelona’s best literary journalists, reported that there are plans to resurrect Carvalho. Vazquéz Montalbán’s former publisher and the writer Carlos Zanón signed an agreement for a further Carvalho novel, due in 2018.

Of course, Zanón is a different kind of writer, and so his version the famous private investigator will not be the same offered by Vázquez Montalbán. Apart from that, times have changed. Today’s Barcelona is rather known to be a place of tasty food, bustling business, great design and relaxing holidays (and not the bleak and dull city it used to be in the 1970s and 1980s). On the other hand, there are still many thing that could be better, be it high indexes of social inequality or disagreements about affordable housing and touristic apartments.

BCNegra – Crime Fiction Festival for Everybody

The announcement of Carvalho’s reappearance will certainly be one of the most discussed topics during the literary festival BCNegra that starts this week and will go on for ten days. This year the event that made Barcelona one of European capitals of detective novel features several writers of crime fiction, among them internationally recognized novelists such as Dennis Lehane and John Connolly.

The appearance of well-known Anglophone writers in Barcelona is certainly a sign that the city is becoming increasingly international, with all its pros and cons. Probably, current Barcelona is not quite the place that Manuel Vázquez Montalbán and Pepe Carvalho were dreaming of. But its story is still compelling. And this is definitely a great news.

Natalia Gonima

Natalia Gonima

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