'History is its own language,’ says winner of crime novel award

Celebrated American mystery novelist James Ellroy wins BCNegra festival Pepe Carvalho Award

Writer and winner of the Pepe Carvalho award James Ellroy on February 1 2018 (by Pere Francesch)
Writer and winner of the Pepe Carvalho award James Ellroy on February 1 2018 (by Pere Francesch) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

February 1, 2018 04:42 PM

Barcelona looks like it belongs in a crime novel: winding, dark alleyways weave through historic, seedy neighborhoods. The Catalan capital has its fair share of grizzly mysteries in its past, but is also welcoming new ones – in the form of fiction, that is. This week kicked the city’s festival dedicated to mystery books, BCNegra, which has already given out its highest award to a name you might recognize: James Ellroy.

If the name doesn’t ring a bell, his work might. His most well-known book is perhaps ‘The Black Dahlia,’ made into a major motion picture in 2006. He’s the author of 19 books, known for their staccato sentences and direct writing style. Ellroy, though, actually has a different way to describe himself.

At the BCNegra press conference regarding the award he won, he introduced himself as he is often wont to do: "the death dog with the hog log, the foul owl with the death growl,” and a couple more rhyming expletives. This was also not the only colorful thing he had to say, speaking in absolutes.

‘History is its own language,’ warns the writer

James Ellroy also expressed his opinion on what he called ‘mainstream literature’ versus ‘crime fiction.’ In response to those who may place the first above the latter, he retorted that, “in reality, crime fiction is first class, and mainstream literature is bullshit.”

The author even had strong preferences for time. He explained his total lack of interest in the present, adding that he “lives in the past.” “The present day holds nothing for me,” he further noted, detailing that he feels “no moral mandate to comment” on it.

He additionally had a warning for those listening: “If your key desire to read historical fiction is based on your consideration that it may refract the current day, you’re out of luck with me. History is its own language, nothing in my book is meant to portray anything else.

A slice of Catalan culture

“I would rather have this award in Barcelona,” said Ellroy, referring to the Pepe Carvalho Award, adding jokingly that, still, when one wins the Nobel Prize, “they give you 2 million dollars,” specifying: “Tax free.”  The jury was formed by Paco Camarasa, Antonio Iturbe, Andreu Martín, Rosa Mora, Daniel Vázquez Sallés, Sergio Vila-Sanjuán and Carlos Zanón.

The main award is actually a slice of Catalan history and culture itself. The prize is named after one of the most famous fictional detectives in Spain, José ‘Pepe’ Carvalho, imagined by celebrated noir novelist Manuel Vázquez Montalbán. Others to have been recognized are American writer Dennis Lehane (2017) and Italian novelist Andrea Camilleri, (2014) among others. The BCNegra festival will be up and running, with various events and workshops all centered on the noir genre, from January 29 until February 4.