BCNegra 10 home
A crime wave sweeps through Barcelona in the first week of February but don’t be afraid to leave home. The BCNegra festival is a celebration of crime fiction, encompassing book presentations and signings, talks and round-table discussions, and the award of the Pepe Carvalho prize. This year’s guests from abroad include: Irishman John Connolly; US private investigator-turned-author Don Winslow; Swede Åsa Larsson; as well as the recipient of the 2010 Pepe Carvalho award, Ian Rankin.
The novela negra, the hardboiled style pioneered in the US in the early 20th century, was slow to take root in Spain. Unlike traditional British mysteries, solving the puzzle is not key to the novela negra: it is more concerned with examining the society that spawned the criminals than the criminal acts themselves. However, under Franco, Spain was officially a conflict-free society and so realistic portraits of injustice and corruption were forbidden.
By the Seventies, with the regime weakening, several established writers turned to the novela negra, including Manuel Vázquez Montalbán. His Pepe Carvalho series, written between 1972 and 2003 and spanning 25 adventures, is considered one of the sharpest commentaries on the transition to democracy. Carvalho, a former Marxist and CIA agent working as a private detective in Barcelona, solves crimes for his clients while investigating the changing city itself. He is relentless in his pursuit of the truth, as well as erotic and gastronomic pleasures. As the title character in The Angst-Ridden Executive states: “It was only women and good food that saved us all from going mad under Franco.”
Several female authors have also chronicled the mean streets of Barcelona. Maria-Antònia Oliver developed a brand of feminist detective fiction, while Alícia Giménez Bartlett, a member of the Pepe Carvalho Prize jury, created Inspector Petra Delicado, as contradictory a character as her name might suggest (Delicate Stone). Teresa Solana’s debut, A Not So Perfect Crime, poked fun at the Catalan upper classes, her follow-up, Short Cut to Paradise, at Barcelona’s publishing industry.
Montalbán, Oliver, Bartlett and Solana are all available in English but there are many great Spanish and Catalan crime fiction writers who have yet to be translated. The BCNegra festival is the perfect opportunity to discover them, as well as a chance to encounter more familiar names.
BCNegra 2010; February 1st to 6th, 2010; Various venues; www.bcn.cat/cultura/bcnegra