Discerning the Absurd: Metaphysical Detection, Parody and Other Mysteries of Javier Tomeo's Crime Fiction

By Pleiss, Mark W. | Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, January 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

Discerning the Absurd: Metaphysical Detection, Parody and Other Mysteries of Javier Tomeo's Crime Fiction


Pleiss, Mark W., Bulletin of Hispanic Studies


The late Javier Tomeo (1932-2013) may be Spain's most unlikely writer of crime fiction. The Aragonese has long been considered an anti-mimetic author who dramatizes and critiques universal aspects of the human condition, and he is often remembered as 'el raro más raro de la literatura española contemporánea' (Cabré 1998: 8). The writer gained fame as an outsider because he eschewed the trends of Spanish social realism during the 1960s and 1970s, and his writing is regularly compared to that of Franz Kafka and Eugene Ionesco because of the importance of the absurd in his oeuvre and his 'tendencia a descoyuntar la realidad' (Acín 2007: 20).1 The lack of geographically specific referents has little in common with crime fiction, a genre that traditionally dramatizes the actors and procedures of social and political institutions during identifiable historical periods. Fitting Tomeo into Spanish crime fiction is equally difficult because seminal authors like Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Eduardo Mendoza, Andreu Martin and Juan Madrid have maintained the social nature of the genre and routinely set their murders and mysteries in contemporary Spain. Consequently, critical understandings of Spanish crime fiction have excluded Tomeo because they have framed their discussions of the genre, especially the 'boom' of the novela negra during the late 1970s and through the 1980s, around the novel's participation in the social, political and historical realities of the post-Franco era.2

Despite the challenges of linking Tomeo to crime fiction, the years surrounding the author's death have witnessed multiple investigations regarding the role of the genre in his corpus of more than 50 narrative works. José Luis Calvo Carilla opened the door to the question of crime in Tomeo's fiction by observing that the writer's protagonists seem scripted from a criminology book. He writes that the author's characters are physically deformed and mentally deranged beings who are potentially dangerous and driven by 'oscuras motivaciones' (Calvo Carilla 2007: 105). Moreover, Calvo Carilla suggests that 'la observación empírica' (2007: 105) and 'la inspección ocular' (106) pervade Tomeo's writing and evince the air of suspicion and paranoia that is common to the nouveau roman. María José Bruña Bragado has described a similar tendency, writing that El castillo de la carta cifrada, like many of Tomeo's novels, follows the strategy of detective films 'donde una anécdota se enreda sobre sí misma' (Bruña Bragado 2007: 86). Additionally, Bruña Bragado puts forward the idea that the novel 'se inspira en el [lenguaje] del método inductivo de la trama detectivesca o policiaca que se basa en la hipótesis, en las subordinadas condicionales: "y si...", "cabe pues la posibilidad.", [y] "supongamos que."' (2007: 87).

Alfredo Moreno Agudo describes another link, arguing that El crimen del Cine Oriente (1995) 'desmonta el género negro' by using an unlikely female protagonist named María and a male outcast character named Juan to challenge novela negra archetypes like 'el investigador', 'el perseguido', and 'la mujer fatal' (Moreno Agudo 2015: 209-210).3 However, Rosa Pellicer has expressed doubts about such affiliations with the genre. She writes that Tomeo's novels 'no responden a los parámetros genéricos en cualquiera de sus modos (novela de intriga, thriller, suspense)', and suggests that his fiction is better described as 'literatura de sospecha' due to the pervasiveness of suspicion, uncertainty, and paranoia (Pellicer 2015: 145). Nevertheless, Pellicer explores Tomeo's relationship with the genre vis-a-vis his unusual treatment of crime fiction topics like 'el enigma', 'la sospecha', 'la víctima', and 'el asesino' (2015: 149-58).

Surprisingly, two of Tomeo's most recognizable works of crime fiction have not been central to the discussion. Preparativos de viaje (1986) and El discutido testamento de Gastón de Puyparlier (1990) include the links to crime fiction documented above, and they also structure their narrative development around the incorporation and subversion of the characters, conventions and clichés from two major sub-genres of crime fiction. …

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