Sunday, September 28, 2008

Review of Tattoo

Pepe Carvahlo is a detective, but he is just as much a sensualist. He thinks just as much about food and women as he does a case. He is capable of great cruelty, but he is not the jealous type-his girlfriend, with whom he has an open relationship is a prostitute. He walks the streets of Barcelona in search of the truth, a good meal and sex, although not necessarily in that order.

In Tattoo (Serpent’s Tail, 2008), Manuel Vasquez Montalbon has his private detective searching for the identity of a man who washes up on the beach whose only identifying mark is a tattoo reading, “Born to Raise Hell in Hell.” Carvahlo is hired for this task by the owner of a hair salon, and he quickly finds himself on his way to Amsterdam in pursuit of the dead man’s name.

To say the plot of Tattoo, which appeared in Spanish in 1976, and has been translated into English for the first time by Nick Caistor, is slight is an understatement. It won’t take anyone very long to figure out what is happening. The attraction of the book isn’t the plot, but the character. Carvahlo is the type of guy who can get beaten and thrown in the canal in Amsterdam and still want to hit the city’s red light district. He’s irrepressible and yet committed to finding the truth about a dead man he never knew. It’s the author’s juxtaposition of animal desires with moral complexity that makes Carvahlo worth getting to know.

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