Pepe Carvalho

Created by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán
(1939 – 2003)

Pepe Carvalho (Juanjo Puigcorbé) and a friend enjoy a light snack.

“Do you realise that we private eyes are the barometers of established morality? I tell you society is rotten. It doesn’t believe in anything,” declares Spanish private eye PEPE CARVAHLO to his friend, Biscuter, in Southern Seas (1979). Pepe is a fat and cynical eye, who may travel the world but makes his home in Barcelona, and possesses some at-times dubious politics, an agile mind, a silver tongue, and a taste for fine food and drink.

However, three months without a job and a lot to drink has him contemplating the sad fact that no one cares anymore about missing wives, adulterous husbands or runaway daughters. The problem these days isn’t that nobody cares. It’s that nobody gives a shit any more.

Pepe’s own past is one of moral ambiguity, including a stint in the CIA, and some strong links to the Spanish Communist Party. So he’s just the guy to investigate the uncertainties of a corrupt and changing society who’s emergence as a capitalist democracy is forcing change on the world he knew and understood.

In Off Side (1988), for example, he muses that he is “no longer the measure of his external world, or even of his internal world, but just a precarious survivor.” Somehow the run up to the Olympics has exposed something rotten “..the new city would no longer feel like the city he knew.”

As he puts it, “Rich people with a guilty conscience seemed to be a thing of the past.”

These books succeed on many levels and each is a delicious mix of classic private eye, social commentary, humour and gastronomic delight (Pepe may be the only hard-boiled detective to have a personal cook). The Angst-Ridden Executive (1977) stands as one of the great books in the genre with its stunning and downbeat ending. Southern Seas is similarly pleasing as Pepe investigates the disappearance of a rich businessman. Murder in the Central Committee (1981) has Pepe leaving his beloved Barcelona to investigate the murder of the General Secretary of the PCP and is a profound — and often hilarious — commentary on the changing face of post Cold War Europe.

In Off Side, Pepe is asked to investigate threats made against Barcelona FC’s new striker. His search takes him nowhere fast until he stumbles onto a corrupt pre-Olympic land deal involving an old Barrio Chino football club. The tone of the book is increasingly one of despair and loss. This theme continues in An Olympic Death (1993) as Pepe watches his beloved Barcelona change for the worse as he tries to come to terms with middle age.

For Pepe, Barcelona is the centre of the world. All things civilised, cultured and worth eating and drinking belong here. Throughout the books Barcelona is lovingly realised and, portrayed as a great noir city, it is a ‘character’ in its own right. Along its mean streets and barrios walks Pepe Carvhalo — astute, human, irreverent, a political realist who understands the need for pragmatism who misses the certainties of the past. A loner who will get the job done, so long as he can stop of on the way to indulge his real passions for food, drink and women, Pepe is one of the genre’s truly great creations.

He’s even been brought to both film and television. He first film appearance was in Tatuaje (19760, followed by Asesinato en el comité central (1982) and Los mares del sur (1990), with different actors playing Pepe every time. And in most cases, the producers opted for slimmer and more handsome actors to play Pepe.

The small screen seemed more suited to establishing Pepe as a series character. He made his debut in a Spanish production, starring Eusebio Poncela, that ran in the mid-eighties, and more recently, in a series of several made-for-TV films. Each 90-minute film was based on a novel or story from the Carvalho series, by a team of scriptwriters under the direct supervision of Manuel Vázquez Montalban himself. The series, starring Juanjo Puigcorbé as Pepe (pictured–apparently Pepe’s lost some weight), proved popular enough to even spawn a soundtrack LP.

Imagine Nero Wolfe leaving his apartment and going down the mean streets of Barcelona, and you’re halfway there. Toss in a whole lot more cynicism and you’re home.


Born in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, on July 27, 1939, Manuel Vázquez Montalban was one of Spain’s most popular and respected authors. He was also a well-respected columnist for the Madrid daily El Pais, as well as a poet, playwright, essayist, and humourist, writing about everything from food to sociology and politics. A fierce Catalan patriot, he was also a constant thorn in the side of the Franco regime ((he served 18 months in prison at one point, avoiding a much longer sentence due to his popularity. His Pepe Carvalho series has been translated into several different languages (including English), and has won international acclaim, his work translated into over 20 languages, and won the Planeta Prize (the Spanish version of the Booker Prize) in 1979 and the Grand Prix of Detective Fiction in France in 1981. He also wrote a standalone novel, The The Greek Labyrinth (1993), featuring private eye Juan Bardon.

Montalban passed away in the Bangkok airpost in 2003, but apparently you can’t keep a good Pepe down. More than 13 years after the demise of his creator, it was announced that Spain’s most famous fictional detective would rise again, in a new novel by Catalan author and poet Carlos Zanón, whose work has been compared to Montalban’s. The book was set to appear in 2019.


  • “Caustic about the powerful and tender towards the oppressed.”
    The Times Literary Supplement



  • Yo maté a Kennedy (1972; aka “I Killed Kennedy”)
  • Tatuaje (1974; aka “Tattoo”)Buy this book
  • La soledad del manager (1977; aka “The Angst-Ridden Executive”)Buy this book Kindle it!
  • Los mares del Sur (1979; aka “Southern Seas”) Buy this book Kindle it!
  • Asesinato en el Comité Central (1981; aka “”Murder in the Central Committee”) Buy this book Kindle it!
  • Los pájaros de Bangkok (1983; “The Birds of Bangkok”)
  • La rosa de Alejandría (1984; “Alexandria’s Rose”)
  • El Balneario (1986; aka “The Spa”)
  • El delantero centro fue asesinado al atardecer (1988; aka “Off Side”) Buy this book Kindle it!
  • El laberinto griego (1991; aka “The Greek Labyrinth”)
  • Sabotaje olímpico (1993; aka “Olympic Death”)
  • El hermano pequeño (1994; “The Little Brother”)
  • Roldán, ni vivo ni muerto (1994)
  • El premio (1996; aka “The Prize”)
  • Quinteto de Buenos Aires (1997; “The Buenos Aires Quintet”) Buy this book Kindle it!
  • El hombre de mi vida (2000; aka “The Man of My Life”) Buy this book
  • Milenio Carvalho (2004; “Carvalho Millennium”)



    (1976, Profilmar/Spain)
    103 minutes
    Based on the novel by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán
    Directed by J. J. Bigas Lunas
    Starring Carlos Ballesteros as PEPE CARVALHO
    Also starring Pilar Velasquez, Monika Randall, Terele Pavez
    (aka “Murder in the Central Committee”)
    (1982, Spain)
    118 minutes
    Based on the novel by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán
    Screenplay by Vicente Aranda
    Directed by Vicente Aranda
    Cinematography by José Luis Alcaine
    Original Music by Manel Camp
    Produced by Carlos Durán, José Antonio Pérez Giner
    Production companies: Morgana Films & Lola Films & Acuaris Productions
    Starring Paxti Andion as PEPE CARVALHO
    Also starring Victoria Abril, Conrado San Martin, José Vivo, Hector Alterio, Carlos Plaza, Ramon Duran, Rosa Maria Mateo, Jack Taylor
    (1990, Cyrkfilms/I.C.C./Spain)
    Based on the novel by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán
    Screenplay by Gustavo Hernández, Manuel Esteban Marquilles
    Directed by Manuel Esteban
    Starring Juan Luis Galiardo as PEPE CARVALHO
    Also starring Jean-Pierre Aumont, Monica Duart, Alejandra Grepi, Carlos Lucena, Eulalia Ramón, Silvia Tortosa, Albert Vidal


    (aka “Le Privé,” “The Spanish Connection”)

    (1984-85, Spain/France)
    TV series
    8 60-minute episodes
    A Spanish/French co-production
    Based on the novels by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán
    Directors: Adolfo Aristarian, José Luis Cuerda, José Antonio Pàramo (1985)
    Starring Eusebio Poncela as PEPE CARVALHO
    with Pilar López as Charo
    and Ovidi Montllor as Biscuter
    Guest stars: Eddie Constantine
    Supposedly quite good, with a definitely dark, seedy vibe. Noir?

    • “Young Serra peso pluma”
    • “La dama inacabada”
    • “Golpe de estado”
    • “La curva de la muerte”
    • “El caso de la go-go girl”
    • “Pigmalión”
    • “Recien casados”
    • “El mar un cristal opaco”
    (1986, Televisió de Catalunya [TV3])
    Made-for-TV movie
    Language: Catalan/Spanish/English
    From an idea from Manuel Vázquez Montalbán
    Teleplay by Manel Esteban & Jean-Claude Izzo
    Directed by Manel Esteban
    Starring Constantino Romero as PEPE CARVALHO
    Also starring Eva León, Llàtzer Escarceller, Teresa Gimpera, Janine Calvo, Cristine Berna, Jaume Sorribas, Toni Planells, Jesús Thomas, Laura Guasch
    (1998-2004, CARTEL)
    10 90-minute TV movies
    A Spanish/French/Italian co-production
    Based on the novels by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán
    Writers: Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Pedro Molina, Gérard Carré, Franco Giraldi
    Directors: Enrique Urbizu, Merzak Allouache, Emmanuelle Cuau, Franco Giraldi
    Music by Maurizio Abeni
    Produced by Cartel S.A., ICC para Tele 5, Solaris Cinematográfica, S.R.L Tanais
    Filmed on location in Barcelona
    Starring Juanjo Puigcorbé as PEPE CARVALHO
    with Valeria Marini as Charo
    Walter Vidarte as Bromuro
    Lluís Marco as Contreras
    and Jean Benguigui as Biscuter
    Mixed reviews on this one; allegedly often frighteningly inconsistent in tone and characterization. 

    • “El hermano pequeño” (1998)
    • “Padre, patrón” (1999)
    • “Il centravanti è stato assassinato verso sera” (1999)
    • “La Soledad del manager” (1999)
    • “Tal como éramos” (1999)
    • “Alla ricerca di Shéhérazade” (1999)
    • “Cita mortal a l’Up & Down” (2004)
    • “Les mers du sud”  (2004)
    • “La rose d’Alexandri” (2004)
    • “Le prix” (2004)


As mentioned before, Pepe enjoys a good meal and also likes cooking. Here are two of his favorites:

  • DUCK
    To begin cooking duck at one in the morning is, according to Pepe Carvalho, “…one of the finest acts of madness that can be undertaken by a human being who is not actually mad.” Take a very young duck and roast in its own fat. Fry some mushrooms and onion in bacon fat. Add white wine, salt, pepper and a bit of sliced truffle — preferably from Villores in the Maestrazago region. When the duck has finished roasting separate off the legs, wings and breasts and cut up the remaining bits of meat, including the birds delicate innards. Mix the meat with the ducks juices and add some stoned olives. Once blended mix the meat with the diced bacon and the mushrooms and truffle, adding a couple of spoonfuls of grated breadcrumbs. Let the mixture cook for a short while then sprinkle it over the larger bits of meat which have been arranged in a casserole. The bird will drink in the flavour of the sauce and will have displayed on its browned surface “a landscape of mushrooms, bacon, olives, breadcrumbs and fragments of the meat sauce.” Put the casserole on the gas for five minuets and then in the oven for a further five. A “sublime unfathomable smell of well-roasted duck” should assail your nostrils as you open the oven door. The whole process should take approx. 1 _ hours. Serve with a celery salad and a chilled eau de vie.
    — from The Angst-Ridden Executive
    Followed by LAMB ALMEDROCH
    First you need good red peppers — good and fleshy but not too large. One or two per person depending on how hungry you are. Grill the peppers carefully and then peel them but don’t split them. Prepare the stuffing by combining cooked prawns, clams and shellfish with a thick béchamel made of equal parts of milk and the juice from boiling prawn heads seasoned with aromatic pepper and tarragon. Fill the peppers with the stuffing and cover with the remainder of the sauce. Bake slowly in a moderate oven. Then take a shoulder of lamb, boned and well flattened. Make the stuffing by mixing together pine kernels, raisons, garlic, parsley and bread soaked in almond milk and salt. Add to this pepper, cumin, chives, fennel, grated lemon skin, three eggs, a large onion, olive oil and thyme. Put the stuffing in the centre of the lamb, packing it inside. Truss the whole thing up with bacon rind. Brown in a cast iron casserole and add a quarter of a litre of water and pack with cloves of garlic and leave on a low flame. Turn it over every 10 to 15 minuets. Once cooked — but be careful not to over cook — take it out and remove the bacon rind and pack it into a dish with the mashed garlic cloves. Add an almedroch sauce by mixing garlic, oil and grated cheese until it is thick – adding the yoke of a boiled egg if you wish.
    — from Off Side


  • Pepe makes a cameo appearance, along with another popular Spanish gumshoe, Juame Fuster’s Lluis Arquer, in Catalan author Maria-Antonia Oliver’s Study in Lilac, featuring her own P.I., Lonia Guiu.



  • October 4, 2023
    The Bottom Line: This Wolfe-like eye waddles down the mean streets of Barcelona, awash in a swirl of graft, greed, and corruption, serving up acid-laced social commentary and exquisite meals. With Recipes!
Respectfully submitted by Peter Walker, with additional information by Kevin Burton Smith. And special thanks to Carlos Diaz Maroto and Wolfgang Mizelli for the leads. Caricature by Miguel Ferreres.

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