Sunday, 19 July 2009

Murder in the Central Committee by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán

This is the second Pepe Carvalho mystery I have read, and I have another one sitting and ready to go. The Barcelona-based detective travels to Madrid at the request of the Spanish Communist Party to investigate the murder of the party's general secretary Fernando Garrido.
On the downside there are too many characters who drift in for a few paragraphs and who are never seen again. It is also quite heavy on geography and at times I found myself turning to a map of Madrid to keep track of Carvalho's peregrinations, although as a former resident I quite enjoyed picturing once familiar streets and landmarks.
Montalbán was a former communist and was imprisoned for four years under Franco's fascist regime and so Carvalho's memories of a similar fate and knowledge of Spanish left-wing politics ring true.
His fictional detective finds himself liaising with a senior policeman who interrogated him 25 years earlier and threatened to kill him by dropping him from a window. Other characters muse on their own involvement and the way it turned them into fugitives purely because of political beliefs and shaped the lives of their families.
There is slightly more detective work in Murder in the Central Committee than in The Man of My Life and Montalbán plants little nuggets along the way to exercise the reader's mind although the actual revelation of the murderer is more of a 'da da' moment that a gradual exposition.
Once again food plays a major part with saliva-inducing descriptions of meal and at least one recipe.
However, less well written was a set-piece sex scene, which was almost laughable, although it paved the way for a betrayal and a significant twist in the plot.
Like the previous Montalbán novel that I read he uses a fairly straightforward detective story as a vehicle for exploring a politically-edged theme and a commentary on contemporary Spanish life (at least contemporary in the early 1980s when the novel was published and Spain was still emerging from the Franco years into a fledgling democracy).
There is enough going on here to read this as a straight forward detective novel but I think you'd have to 'know' Spain – at least in terms of history and the regional tensions that exist there – to properly 'get' this novel.

No comments: