"An Olympic Death" is an unorthodox mystery novel set in Barcelona on the eve of the '92 Olympics. As a portrait of Barcelona, the novel reveals it for what it is -- at once one of the most exciting cities in Europe and a postmodernist pigsty. A hilarious satire on contemporary art, aging hippies, preparations for the Olympics. philosophy, books, gay bars, and even mystery novels themselves, "An Olympic Death" is Manuel Vázquez Montalbán at his best.
The novel's opening scene could have been taken straight from a Peter Sellers movie. Claire Delmas, a eye-boggling French beauty, and her friend the Olympic agent Georges Lebrun, pay a visit to Pepe Carvalho, Barcelona's aging private-eye, gastronome extraordinaire, and repentent Communist. Carvalho (pronounced "car-valyu") is truly an unorthodox figure among private-eyes. Immediately, it is evident that he is much more of a psychiatrist than a private-eye, braving the dangers of his clients' conversation instead of the world of crime. Claire and Lebrun are looking for Alekos, Claire's renegade Greek husband turned homosexual. Their search for him -- chaperoned by Carvalho -- leads them through a motley of comic scenes in Barcelona.
Perhaps uniquely among detective novels, Carvalho is simultaneously at work on a curious, entirely unrelated second "case". Luis Brando, a wealthy publisher (no relation to Marlon), engages him to keep an eye on Beba, his nymphomaniac teenage daughter. Beba is a lusty lass with a penchant for screwing old men. Carried out alongside the search for Alekos, Beba's case leads Carvalho through a riotous labyrinth of crazy characters and a hilarious tour of Barcelona by night.
While I enjoyed the novel immensely and I understand it's largely a satire on "cultural hooliganism" (Carvalho's phrase), I have to admit that there are some trashy scenes. Montalbán could have excluded them and not damaged his story. I'm not a prude, but from time to time he overkilled the sex and profanity. So much so that to be frank, I was ready for the novel to end.
Nevertheless, the book was a fantastic read and I'm eager to find more Montalbán. 5 stars.