Eduardo Mendoza and Barcelona Mysteries [A Month of a Thousand Forests]
The second author up today in the Month of a Thousand Forests series is Eduardo Mendoza. Rather than quote from his interview, I’m just running part of the bio that Valerie Miles wrote for him along with a bit from The Truth about the Savolta Case.
As with all the other posts in this series, if you order A Thousand Forests in One Acorn from the Open Letter site and use the code FORESTS, you’ll get it for only $15.
Mendoza has acknowledged that the cult of literature within his family influenced him in his vocation as a writer. He was going to call his first novel Los soldados de Cataluña, a title that would have had trouble eluding the Francoist censor, so he decided to call it La verdad sobre el caso Savolta, a title that was more in keeping with the central storyline, the mysterious atmosphere where the plot unfolds, and better, in any case, at concealing the novel’s political undertone.
Published in 1975, a short time before Franco’s death, La verdad sobre el caso de Savolta, was a breath of fresh air in the dubious Spanish fiction of the time; in it, Mendoza presents an innovative structure, open to various narrative discourses, functioning like parts of a puzzle that, all together, end up resembling Barcelona at the beginning of the twentieth century, a city that found itself in the middle of tension and the struggles of unions and revolutionaries.
In his next novel, El misterio de la cripta embrujada (1979), he started down another literary path, the detective saga, through which he sought, via an exceedingly peculiar character (a nameless detective locked in an insane asylum), to parody the noir novel and the gothic genre and, at the same time, to offer his vision of Barcelona at that moment. In 1982, this first title was followed by El laberinto de las aceitunas; and the trilogy culminated in 2001, with La aventura del tocador de señoras. [. . .]
Humor, one of the secret weapons of Mendoza’s oeuvre, almost a genre all its own, also characterized other essential titles of his like La isla inaudita (1989), which tells of a Catalan executive’s trip to Venice in search of love; Sin noticias de Gurb (1990), which presents the delirious and personal diary of an extraterrestrial who arrives in a city that is preparing to receive the Olympic torch; or El año del diluvio, in 1992. In 2006 he published Mauricio o las elecciones primarias, a novel whose plot unfolds in the years leading up to the Transition, also set in Barcelona, and in 2008 El asombroso viaje de Pomponio Flato, a satire that explores the confines of the Roman Empire. The writer’s most recent novel, El enredo de la bolsa y la vida (2012), where he revives his famous nameless detective, has already garnered enormous popular success.
“Inspector Vázquez, you must hear me out. Just listen to what I have to tell you and you won’t be sorry. A crime is always a crime.”
Inspector Vázquez threw the papers he was reading down on the desk and focused a fulminating stare on his ragged confidant, who was rubbing his hands together and balancing first on one foot, then on the other in a desperate attempt to be noticed.
“Who the hell let this bird into my office?” bellowed the inspector, addressing the peeling paint on his ceiling.
“There was no one here, so I took the liberty . . . ,” explained his confidant, advancing toward the desk covered with newspapers and photographs.
“I swear by Christ’s blood, by the eternal salvation of my . . . !” Vázquez started to say, but he stopped when he realized he was using the same religious terminology as his annoying visitor. “Why can’t you leave me in peace? Get out!”
“Inspector, I’ve been trying to speak with you for five days now.”
There were only two days left of the seven the conspirators allotted Nemesio, and he hadn’t found a single clue related to Pajarito de Soto’s death. The Savolta murder had cut him off, and the police were concentrating on solving that crime to the exclusion of all others. Also, his efforts to find the conspirators and warn them of the fact that Inspector Vázquez was looking for them in connection with the Savolta affair had been met by an absolute rejection from every one of the sources he’d approached during those five unlucky days.
“Five days?” said the inspector. “They’ve seemed like five years to me! Let me give you some advice, buddy. Get out and stay out. The next time I see you snooping around here, I’ll have you locked up. You’ve been warned. Now get out of my sight!”
Nemesio walked out of the office and down to the ground floor filled with dire foreboding. But he was soon distracted by an unexpected incident. As he reached the bottom stair, Nemesio detected unusual movement: there were shouts, and policemen were running in every direction. Something’s going on. I’d better get out of here now. He was trying to do just that, when a uniformed policeman grabbed him by the arm and dragged him to the far corner of the room.
“Out of the way.”
“What’s going on?”
“They’re bringing in some dangerous prisoners.”
Nemesio waited, holding his breath. From his corner, he could see the entrance, and, parked in front of it, a paddy wagon. A double file of armed police formed a path from the wagon to the building. They brought the prisoners out of the wagon. Nemesio tried to run, but the policeman still held him by the arm. The silence was only broken by the clinking of chains. The four prisoners entered. The youngest was weeping; Julián had lost his beret,
had a black eye and bloodstains on his sheepskin jacket, held a manacled hand against his ribs, and his legs gave way as he walked; the man with the scar looked serene, although he had deep circles under his eyes. Nemesio thought he’d die.
“What did they do?” he whispered in the ear of the policeman guarding him.
“It looks like they’re the ones who killed Savolta.”
“But Savolta died at midnight on New Year’s Eve.”
He didn’t dare say that he’d been with the prisoners at that precise moment in the photographer’s studio, that Julián had brought him there by force. He was afraid of being implicated in the matter, so he obeyed and kept silent. Uselessly, however, because the man with the scar had seen him. He nudged Julián with his elbow, and when Julián caught sight of Nemesio, he shrieked, in a voice that seemed to boil out of his guts, “You finally sold us out, you son of a bitch!”
One of the guards hit him with the butt of his rifle, and Julián fell to the floor.
“Take them away!” ordered an individual dressed like a poor man.
The sad procession passed by Nemesio. Two agents were dragging Julián by his armpits, blood pouring out of him. The man with the scar stopped opposite Nemesio and gave him a freezing scornful smile.
“We should have killed you, Nemesio. But I never thought you’d do this.”
He was pushed forward. It took Nemesio a few seconds to regain his composure. He tore himself violently away from the policeman holding his arm and ran back up the stairs. In the hall, he ran into Inspector Vázquez.
“Inspector, it wasn’t those men! I swear. They didn’t kill Savolta.”
The inspector looked at him as if he were seeing a cockroach walking over his bed.
“But . . . you’re still here?” he said, turning bright red.
“Inspector, this time you’ll have to listen to me whether you want to or not. Those men didn’t do it, those men . . .”
“Get him out of here!” shouted the inspector, pushing Nemesio aside and striding forward.
“Inspector!” implored Nemesio, while two powerful agents dragged him bodily toward the door. “Inspector! I was with them, I was with them when Savolta was killed. Inspector!!”
(Translated by Alfred Mac Adam)