CULTURE

Postmodern detective and Olympic sabotage

Detective fiction is more like a genus or genre – with many sub-genres that are similar and different – than a species. Some may see it as light summer reading whose superficial construction is matched by its superficial consumption, but a slap-happy approach is not a common or obligatory feature of all detective fiction, and has not been ever since the time of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Besides, there is crime fiction which pays little attention to plot and which avoids piling up adventures, murders and unsolved mysteries that tax the reader. The varieties that have sprung from the main trunk (such as the political thriller and the noir) have not just revitalized it but taken it into new territory. The much-translated, multi-prize-winning Spaniard Manuel Vazquez Montalban (1939-2003) is among those who have made a significant contribution in this respect. Likely suspects Montalban’s «Olympic Games Sabotage» first published in 1993, is a police procedural. There is a mystery (the theft of the Olympic Flame from Olympia, the disappearance of torchbearers from the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, and the abduction of Juan Antonio Samaranch himself). There are conspirators and suspects (Serb nationalists, Catalan separatists, old extreme leftists and others of that ilk); there are «the forces of law and order» (represented by the Spanish interior minister), the sponsors and American President George Bush I and his vice president, Dan Quayle, who mistake Barcelona for Baghdad and want to drop smart bombs on it in what is probably real rather than fictional confusion. And there is an ingenious reporter, Pepe Carvalho, «short on belongings and optimism,» who is assigned the task of solving the mystery. Except that Carvalho, the «first postmodern detective,» who finds cynicism and sarcasm to be the only antidotes to his melancholy, is not a typical solver of detective puzzles. Apart from anything else, he has self-awareness, he knows he is a paper hero, literary. He knows that reality unfolds in his absence, even when it is not real but a simulation. Moreover, Carvalho has decided to perform «an elementary act of rebellion and contempt» during the 17 days of the Games by shutting himself up at home and indulging in «his two greatest vices – cookery and burning books.» The first book he hurls into the fireplace is «his volume of ‘Que sais-je’ about the Olympics» followed by a slim volume with the title «From Olympia to Munich.» The novel quickly morphs into an enraged manifesto against the huge enterprise that bears the name of the Olympic Games. Pepe Carvalho is deeply offended by the «innate stupidity of the games that are based on the equally innate stupidity and ignorance of the facts concerning their founder, Baron de Coubertin.» Olympism «causes him metaphysical and real anxiety.» So he refuses «to consume a democratic farce, mystic modernist ceremonies, Walt Disney-style mock culture» in the hope that he will remain untouched by «the fascist stratagem of the Olympic slogan, ‘What counts is to participate’.» Gradually, Carvalho uncovers various aspects of the Olympic Games’ sabotage. For example, he discovers that all the Olympic equipment (javelins, hammers, discuses and balls) have been bugged with brains and memories, so that their trajectory can be remotely controlled. He also discovers that «most of the Olympic contractors have been active members of the Left and had in fact gone to Sierra Maestra on an excursion before they moved to Mount Olympus.» Furthermore, a Serb follower of «national-terrorism» and unacknowledged daughter of Tito tells him the objective of the Anti-Olympic saboteurs is «to Balkanize the Olympic Games, a provocation that will make Barcelona a second Paris Commune.» Deeply concerned, Carvalho resorts to a young critic, a «follower of scholasticism,» asking him to find a thread and a meaning in all this. The final discovery is that the Catalan Juan Antonio Samaranch (the former Francoist and current «president of the athletics multinational, who was even prepared to accept an auction as an Olympic sport») is not Samaranch but a double and that the «fake Olympism» has in any case set up a gigantic farce in place of the Games. Themselves a virtual form of ideals rumored once to have existed, they cannot be manifested and shaped other than as a simulation, as a lie on top of a lie. Humor and sarcasm Whether we read «Olympic Games Sabotage» as a sports fantasy novel where language rather than plot sets the tone, a libel with a strong dose of Dadaism, or surrealist aggression, we can enjoy the humor and sarcasm aimed at everyone: philosophers (from Ortega y Gasset to Bernard Henri-Levy), writers, nationalists, entrepreneurs of «Olympic internationalism,» world leaders and even the Dream Team, «the professional players who came as close to the Olympic ideal as rummy players.»