Tag Archives: Juan Madrid

Toni Romano Vol 1



Continuing from  first blogpost on Juan Madrid, I have now read the two first volumes of the Toni Romano series, currently published on a 35th anniversary edition, by B de Bolsillo: Un beso de amigo/Kiss From a Friend, 1980; and Las aparencias no engañan/ Appearances don’t lie. Romano is a former policeman and boxer, scraping a living doing things that could put the skills he was trained for to use (taking blows, finding people, security, doorman: as the series progresses, his jobs go from bad to worse). The first novel is set in the Madrid of the transition, the moment between Franco’s death in 1975 and Colonel Tejero’s attempted coup in ’81; the second is set immediately after; and both novels vividly evoke the period of the Transition.

There are Goyaesque vignettes such as a dwarf offering Toni a blowjob whilst her blind mother is seemingly asleep in the same room; drunks making a home in the parking lots under the Plaza Mayor; characters such as Zaza Gabor, playing his accordion in local restaurants in exchange for meals,  neighbourhoods where everyone knows each other, each trying to work out the angles to survive; all against the police; all at a time of change and incertitude, with the rich and right-wing trying to hold on the power they wielded under Franco, funding thugs to beat the more liberal factions with; yet, with some of the certainties and completely accepted ways of being under the Franco years crumbling (there’s no Church so far in the novels; the family is the ultimate source of betrayal in the first novel; I’ll come to the police in a moment). Sex is everywhere, and it’s for sale.

Like with Vázquez Montalbán, Juan Madrid paints a picture of a known Madrid of the period and you can trace Romano’s walks (as I did with google maps) through the central neighbourhoods of Madrid (Sol, Plaza Mayor, Chueca, Gran Vía: the action is all very central except for a few forays to the more prosperous new suburbs or in order to deposit the odd body in the forests outside Madrid; all streets he mentions can be found; the books are like an artist’s pulpy and vernacular sketch of the human geography of the city of Madrid in the era of the  transition to Democracy

As to the forces of law and order, Madrid is Marxist:


‘La policía, a pesar de los discursos y de las pamplinas que se escribían sobre ella, no servía para defender a los cidudadanos, sino para vigilarlos. Éramos una especia de guardia pretoriana de unos pocos, pagados por los impuestos de todos….Sé de comisarios con cuatro sueldos, algunos de profesor, acudir a burdeles y después condenar a prostitutas apelando la Ley de la Peligrosidad Social. A cambio de tanta corrupción, se conseguía una policía fiel y dedicada a encarcelar a desgraciados. Y el que no aceptaba aquella cosas era tratado como sospechoso o imbécil.

Me han dicho que ahora con la democracia las cosas han cambiado. No lo sé/

In spite of the discourses  and all the nonsense written about it, the police is not there to defend citizens but to keep them under surveillance. We were a kind of of praetorian guard for the few, paid for from the taxes of all…I know of commissioners with four salaries, some as professors, going to brothels and subsequently arresting prostitutes under the Social Danger Laws. In exchange for so much corruption, one aquires a faithful police force dedicated to incarcerating the unfortunate. And whomever didn’t accept that was liable to be treated as either stupid or suspect.

They tell me Democracy has now changed those things. I don’t know’.


I’m finding Madrid’s novels most interesting. All his women lack depth; they’re stereotypical projections of sex, danger and betrayal. And yet, the (city of) Madrid of those years, which I know first hand, seems vivid; if one doesn’t look for depth, the line drawings of the people and social relations that peopled those streets in that time are as real and evocative to me as nothing else I know of except Almodóvar’s early films (which dealt with a different but intersecting side of that same [city of] Madrid).

José Arroyo

Juan Madrid on the Spanish Noir Novel at EICTV in San Antonio



Juan Madrid was, alongside Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano is named in homage to the Catalan writer), González Ledesma and Andreu Martín – one of the founders of what came to be known as la novela negra Española, a combination of hard-boiled detective novel, investigative journalism, a semi-Marxist analysis of structures,  a thrall to the darker dimensions of sex and society, all textured within a pulp style of story-telling..

Juan Madrid, on the left, at the Mediateca André Bazin at EICTV, San Antonio, Cuba

I have a particular love for the novels of Vázquez Montalbán, with his cynical attitudes to the rich, his love/hate relationship to literature (“For forty years I read book after book, now I burn them because they taught me nothing about how to live”), and his various recurring relationships (“My girlfriend is a call girl. My technical assistant, waiter, cook and secretary is a car thief called Biscuter. My spiritual and gastronomic adviser is a neighbor called Fuster”).

I taught at Ramon Lllul university in Barcelona at the turn of the last century, and reading Vázquez Montalbán’s novels was a way of learning about the city; in each, investigator Pepe Carvalho burned a book, cooked a dish, and was badly beaten up exploring one element of the city’s structure – the construction industry during the Olympics, football, etc.—through the investigation of a crime that then proceeded into an investigation of corruption at the heart of the city, its neighbourhoods, its social structures; all with a wise-guy lippyness and a lightly-worn learnedness, one tinged with the ennui of a man who knows too much, that’s simultaneously funny and sad.

IMG_3877          Madrid was in EICTV in San Antonio to launch his new novel, Los hombres mojados no temen a la lluvia, already winner of the 14th Premio Unicaja de novela Fernando Quiñones in Spain, but published in Cuba as part of the Colección ORBIS, Editorial Arte y Literatura, by the Instituto Cubano del Libro.

I’d not had the chance to read Juan Madrid’s work before but his talk, impressively erudite, ranging from the quotation of Marx’s opening sentence in The Communist Manifesto (“A spectre is haunting Europe”), to a history of the formation of national police forces in Europe, their rationale (to preserve order and protect the interests of the ruling class) and so on, made me want to read Los hombres mojados no temen a la lluvia (which translates literally as ‘Made’ Men Don’t Fear the Rain).

It’s a novel with a world one happily sinks into and is absorbed by: it’s structured as a paternal melodrama, which gives the resolution of the crime not only a hook and a coda but also texture, an extra layer of depth. The spark that starts off the drama is a missing DVD of an S&M orgy featuring the rich and the powerful. Liberto Ruano is the lawyer who gets embroiled in the case and, in exploring the links between high finance and the mafia, ends up finding out who he is. The ingeniously plotted narrative is set in a Madrid of low-rent brothels and long-standing watering holes in the process of change. Though it’s set in the present, Madrid’s Madrid is always dialectically imbricated in the past; thus an exposition of a particular place, is also an explanation of what it once was, what it meant, who owned it, who went there and how much a meal cost.

Johnny Guitar dialogue beginning at bottom of p. 94

The story is set now but the Francoist Spain of the sixties with its strictures, norms and power relations are an important, even necessary, part of the story and its telling: the answer to the castrations of the present lie in the forbidden sexuality of the past, yesterday’s taboo is today’s totem. I was also very intrigued by the paraphrasing, so light as to be almost an unacknowledged quotation, of the Johnny Guitar dialogue (‘Lie to me. Tell me that you love me’) I wrote about recently here; or rather by the way the protagonists in the story, Liber and Ada, use it to talk to each other; they reiterate but without attribution. Thus, to the uninitiated, the impression is of a heightened romanticism; to those in the know, that plus a suggestion that what links the characters is a love for what Johnny Guitar represents, precisely this type of heightened, fatalistic romance. I liked Los hombres mojados no temen a la lluvia so much I scoured central Havana to find another novel by Madrid and succeeded in finding Pájaro en mano/ Bird in the Hand (2007), which I liked just as much. I mean to read more.

I wanted to interview Madrid. Some of his novels have been adapted into films: Dias Contados (Imanol Uribe, Spain, 1994) is especially notable for Javier Bardem’s extraordinary performance as a rattled drug addict and small-time police informer. He also wrote the script or the Brigada Central TV series. I wanted to find out more about his views on noir and on cinema and also about how one of the key chroniclers of Spain’s transition to democracy and its aftermath is now being published in Cuba and printed by the ‘Imprenta Federico Engels’. I sense there’s a story there. But though we met and I told him how much I liked his talk, I was too shy to impose any further.


José Arroyo