Political football: Manuel Vázquez Montalbán and sports mysteries
The late Barcelona-born crime writer was a huge fan of the soccer team, so huge that the FC Barcelona Foundation has sponsored a journalism award in his name since 2004. (Crime fiction readers may be more impressed that Andrea Camilleri named his protagonist Salvo Montalbano in homage to Vázquez Montalbán, possibly for the Spanish author's love of food as well as for his politics.)
Off Side, a 1989 novel first translated into English in 2000 and now reissued by Melville House, has protagonist Pepe Carvalho called in to protect FC Barcelona's newly signed English center forward against a death threat. (That probably dates the book because these days, English football is long on money but apparently short on world-class home-grown players. Top continental footballers are likelier to sign with English clubs than vice versa.)
Vázquez Montalbán was a sharp observer of the high and the low, and my favorite bit so far is of the high, namely of the Barcelona team's chairman at the news conference where the English star's signing is announced:
"He had been on the point of becoming, variously, a minister in the Spanish government, a councillor in the autonomous government of Catalonia, and mayor of Barcelona. At sixty years of age he had suddenly discovered tiredness, and a feat that this tiredness would cause him to disappear from the public stage that he had occupied continuously ever since he had become the great white hope of the progressive business community under Franco."
"THERE IS AN OLD GRIDIRON WHEEZE that states a guard is only a fullback with his brains knocked out. I have met some rather bright guards and some extremely stupid fullbacks, but what is a fact measured against the generality? I’d played a few years of guard, myself, the more prominent years with the Rams and made a lot of friends in Los Angeles. So it figured that when the boys began to clobber me, Los Angeles was the logical place to open up a business."Since fate has me reading about football on both sides of the Atlantic, I'll ask what your favorite crime novels set in the world of sports are. That may be tricky, at least for readers of American crime fiction. Sports was once a popular category of pulp fiction, alongside crime, military, romance, and adventure, but no longer. So, your alternate question: When did sports lose favor as a crime-fiction category, and why?
© Peter Rozovsky 2012