Montalban, Manuel Vazquez - 'Tattoo' (translated by Nick Caistor)
I had forgotten how much I enjoyed the adventures of Spanish private eye Pepe Carvalho as created by the late Manuel Vazquez Montalban, but Serpent's Tail have reminded me what I have been missing by publishing TATTOO for the first time in English and reissuing THE MAN OF MY LIFE and AN OLYMPIC DEATH, five years after the death of the prize-winning author.
Pepe Carvalho is a true one-off in crime fiction. An ex-cop, ex-CIA employee, ex-Marxist and then private eye in Barcelona, Carvalho dedicates himself to chasing women and good food and as something of a gourmet he's more likely to run faster chasing a good meal.
TATTOO, whilst probably not Montalban's best plotted book, is a delight and crammed with the detective's eccentricities such as his craving for a roaring log fire in July (in Barcelona?) which he lights by burning a book every night (starting with Don Quixote!), estimating that his library will see him through about ten years' worth of fires.
The novel was published in Spanish in 1976 and although Nick Caistor's translation seems flawless, particularly when trying to explain regional Spanish accents, one or two aspects have not dated well. Carvalho's attitude to women is distinctly non-PC if not downright thuggish; the fact that tattoos are so unusual(!) that it's possible to identify a faceless corpse from one, and the gay abandon with which Carvalho goes through three airports whilst flying to Holland, carrying both a gun and a switchblade.
Nonetheless, this is a meaty, spicy stew of a book which leaves you, like Carvahlo always is, hungry for more.
Mike Ripley, England
Mike Ripley is the author of the 'Angel' series and writes a regular column for the Birmingham Post.
More crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.