Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The Angst-Ridden Executive. . .

It's always a delight discovering a new mystery series and this one is a lot of fun. It's part of Melville House's International Crime Series and though The Angst-Ridden Executive by Manuel Vazquez Montalban, translated by Ed Emery, is the third in the series (there are more titles coming out this year),  there's no problem with jumping right in (although I 'd like to read the fourth one next  - I think it's Southern Seas - to possibly understand the fallout from the ending of this one).  Our private detective is Pepe Carvalho, formally imprisoned under the Franco regime, a man who once worked for the CIA and has now set up his own business.  He loves women, good food (obsessively and gluttonously), talking politics and (strangely) burning the odd book in his fireplace.  To relax he likes to cook, "something slightly painstaking and packed with stimulation and small difficulties", or go to the movies, with a particular taste for classic Hollywood noir. It all seems to help him in his job:

Yet more role models! Which should he choose?  Whom should he copy? Bogart playing Chandler? Alan Ladd doing Hammett? Paul Newman as Harper? Gene Hackman? In the privacy of his car as it crept up the slopes of Tibidabo, Carvalho practiced the mannerisms of each of them. Bogart's dewy-eyed look and the contemptuous curl of the lip.  Alan Ladd, and the way he walked as tall as possible to cover up for how short he was. Then there was Newman, with his self-awareness of being so very good-looking. And Hackman, with the look of a man who's been jilted by his wife, weighs two hundred pounds, and is tired of life. 

The above excerpt gives a small sense of Montalban's writing style which I'd characterize as sophisticated wisecracking. Pepe is cynical, world weary and impatient. He doesn't suffer fools or corruption gladly, but there is a generous heart located somewhere amidst the cholesterol.  I haven't written much about the plot (a wealthy executive is found murdered with a pair of knickers in his pocket and Pepe doesn't buy the official version that he was killed by a pimp), simply because this isn't really a whodunit in the traditional sense. There's no clever plotting and accumulation of clues; this is certainly not a country house cozy.  Suspicion for the murder falls on the group of friends closest to the murdered executive, who have remained in touch but followed widely different paths in the wake of Franco's death, and it is in this vivid and vibrant portrait of a still uncertain Spanish society trying to come to grips with its political past, that the book most intrigued me.  And the food descriptions won't disappoint.   Despite its occasional violence and dated misogyny (the book was originally published in 1977), I did chuckle quite a bit throughout and I'd definitely read another in this series.

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