Southern Seas – Manuel Vázquez Montalbán
A Pepe Carvalho Investigation
translated by Patrick Camiller
An unconventional mogul plans to travel to the South Pacific, but then he is murdered and his wife hires private investigator Pepe Carvalho to find out what happened. This is the story of “Southern Seas” by Manuel Vásquez Montalbán, a very famous Spanish writer whose stories are set in Barcelona. “Southern Seas” (Los Mares del Sur) is his most famous story in the Pepe Carvalho investigation series.
What an investigation this turns out to be. I like the way the mystery unfolds. The book is full of interesting characters from all walks of life. The most tantalizing character to me is the investigator Pepe Carvalho who appears to have a zeal for good food a good drink. He’s intelligent, tough, and street-smart. He can also be gentle and caring for others in his life – like Charo, his long-time girlfriend (a career prostitute); Bleda, the puppy that he spots in a pet store window, buys, and brings home; and Biscuter, who cooks many of his meals.
I enjoyed the dialog in the storyline. It’s sharp, fun and witty. I found myself laughing aloud several times. Investigator Pepe Carvalho certainly held my attention throughout the book.
I also like how Spanish politics, history and food references are sprinkled throughout the story. Like this scene between Carvalho and Biscuter, when Carvalho is about to take off in search of a troubled young woman:
‘You’re not going, are you, boss? Aren’t you staying to eat?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘I’ve made you some potatoes and chorizo à la Rioja.’
Carvalho stopped, with one foot outside the door. Potatoes and chorizo à la Rioja.
‘They’re hot,’ Biscuter insisted, when he saw him waver.
I’m not sure how potatoes and chorizo à la Rioja is prepared, but I was inspired to try my version. It sounded simple enough – potatoes and chorizo. Basically, I bought some fresh chorizo and removed the casing. I sautéed the chorizo in some oil; then I sautéed some onions and garlic, and added boiled diced potatoes to the cooked chorizo, onions, and garlic. Since the chorizo is already spicy and salty, I didn’t bother adding any salt, pepper or spices. It was tasty and filling. Now, I understand why Carvalho hesitated at the mention of the meal. I’ll have to find out how to prepare the real potatoes and chorizo à la Rioja, but overall, I liked what I’d prepared.
While I didn’t expect the solution to the mystery of the mogul’s death, the real shocker to me was the ending of the book, which had nothing to do with the mystery (or did it?). “Southern Seas” captivated my attention to the very end. I liked following the way Pepe Carvalho interacted with the people he met, as he solved his assignments. I plan on following Pepe Carvalho and the other mysteries that he will encounter and no doubt solve.
A few weeks ago, I received a free review copy of the newly translated “Southern Seas” from publisher Melville House. I enjoyed the book so much that I decided to feature it as my contribution for Novel Food, the food blogging event that combines literary works with food. It is hosted by Simona of Briciole. You can find a lineup of other Novel Food submissions on her blog.
Ed. Note: A friend who lives in Spain sent me video link of a Spanish chef preparing potatoes and chorizo à la Rioja. It is totally different than what I prepared, more like a soup with the potatoes and chorizo and other spices. It looked very delicious. In the near future, I hope to be able to prepare it.
*You can find the round up of the 17th edition of Novel Food HERE.