Juan Anguera, alias Flanagan: Ironic Hard-boiled Hero

Louise Salstad

Louise Salstad is Associate Professor of Spanish in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, where she teaches undergraduates and M.A. students. Her favorite classes are those in Spanish and Latin American children's literature..

In this issue we inaugurate a new practice, that of having a special topic each January for "Alice's Academy", while the rest of the journal issue remains a general issue. This time our special topic is international mystery, and I am excited to present an article on a mystery series that is largely unfamiliar to English-speaking scholars of children's literature: the Flanagan series from Spain.
(Elizabeth Pandolfo Briggs, editor, Alice's Academy)


The Flanagan Series as Parody

Juan Anguera, aka Flanagan, is the autodiagetic narrator of a best-selling series of adolescent novels by Catalan writers Andreu Martín and Jaume Ribera. When the first Flanagan book appeared, Martín had already written many texts for parodic comics and a dozen adult crime novels; Ribera, comic strips, humorous stories, and stories of terror. Their combined talents have created a series that has been extremely popular with teens not only in Spain but in France, Germany, Italy, and Portugal as well. The first novel, No pidas sardina fuera de temporada (Don't Ask for Sardines Out of Season) won the 1989 Spanish National Prize for Children's Literature.

For critic Anabel Sáiz Ripoll, the Flanagan series is a somewhat muted version of the novela negra, or hard-boiled detective novel (10). [1] Critics sometimes refer to it as a parody of the novela negra, especially, though not exclusively, that of Raymond Chandler, whose private-eye hero, Philip Marlowe, is Flanagan's chief role model. The books certainly fall within the genre of the detective novel for adolescents, and they are definitely funny. Given the professional background of the two writers, this fact is not surprising. But are they parodies, and if so, of what kind? According to one interview with Andreu Martín in which he was asked about the origin of the series, he and Jaume Ribera first played with the idea of a parody of the novela policiaca [2] simply as a bit of fun to demythologize the figure of the American detective (Satué 54). In another interview he states that they had a particular novel in mind, namely, Chandler's The Big Sleep. Dissatisfied with the result because it seemed too "decaffeinated" for its setting, a high school located in a peripheral zone of Barcelona, they talked with students in a school setting very similar to the one in the novel. These students helped them discover the form they wanted, one that ended up, according to Martín, having nothing to do with Chandler ("Entrevistamos" 27). In yet a third interview he states that No pidas sardina is a realistic novel, an approach to the detective novel from an aspect of parody ("Andreu Martín" 41). I agree that this book, and the others in the series, are realistic in portraying serious crime and other social evils of the modern metropolis. Also realistic is their ironic vision, incarnated in an adolescent protagonist who inevitably falls short in attempting to imitate his fictional hard-boiled heroes, and whose metafictional comments suggest that no one in fact could perform the feats attributed to those heroes. Martín's somewhat varying accounts of the series' origin, though they confirm the idea of an intended parody, leave open the question of whether it is, in fact, specifically a parody of Chandler. In my opinion the answer is definitely yes for the first novels, while in later books the Marlowe type still serves as implicit paradigm. Even Flanagan 007, in which the allusion to secret agent James Bond [3] is obvious, synthesizes the spy model with that of the private detective, which remains basic.

Margaret Rose, in her book on parody, claims that it may be defined in general terms as "the comic re-functioning of preformed linguistic or artistic material" (52). The Flanagan books fit this definition if one thinks of them as parody of the hard-boiled detective genre--primarily as embodied in Chandler's novels--rather than of any specific text . Rose points out that the parodist may be motivated by contempt or sympathy with the original text. The Flanagan series does not correspond to the contempt theory; indeed, Andreu Martín has spoken numerous times of his admiration for Chandler's novels. However, neither does the Spanish series conform to Rose's description of the work of the sympathetic parodist, who imitates the chosen text in order to write in its style. The series is, perhaps, too complex to fit neatly into Rose's categories. As Rose herself affirms, sympathy need not exclude a desire to change and modernize the parodied text (45-46).

The lack of close fit may have also something to do with the so-called nature of adolescent literature. Roberta Seelinger Trites considers one of the defining factors of the young adult novel to be the adolescent protagonists' striving to understand their own power by struggling with the various institutions in their lives (8). Just as the character Flanagan learns what portion of power he wields (Trites x) vis-a-vis such institutions as the family, the school, the police, the corporate world, etc., so the narrator Flanagan explores his own power vis-a-vis the "institution" of a well-established literary genre, the hard-boiled detective story. At any rate, the element of mockery evident in the narrator's discourse is mainly directed to himself as character. The parodist, Rose states, may use irony in the treatment of the work in a variety of ways, including meta-linguistic or meta-fictional comments about it (87). Flanagan knows well the conventions of the hard-boiled genre, from both novels and films, and is very much aware of the differences between himself and the hard-boiled detective, an awareness expressed in many comically ironical narrative comments. Francis Spufford's observation regarding his love of science fiction at age fourteen applies here; Flanagan is "trying out the sensation of exceeding the scope of an ordinary adult by the same margin by which he presently falls short of it" (178-79).

George Grella maintains that the American hard-boiled detective story is a romance, a version of the quest, both a search for the truth and an attempt to eradicate evil, a story that combines its romance themes and structures with a tough, realistic surface (7). Significantly, whereas Martín's favorite hero of the novela negra is Sam Spade, creation of Dashiell Hammett (Lozano 36), Flanagan's is Philip Marlowe, "softer-boiled" than Spade. Flanagan draws explicit contrasts between himself and Chandler's hero, once each in No pidas sardina fuera de temporada and No te laves las manos, Flanagan (Don't Wash Your Hands, Flanagan), four times in Todos los detectives se llaman Flanagan (All Detectives Are Called Flanagan). George Grella describes Marlowe as tough like Hammet's detective, but possessed of compassion and a dimension of nobility that Spade lacks (8). The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing says of Marlowe, "A tough man of the streets, he is also a romantic and an idealist" (60). Marlowe himself in The Long Good-bye tells a friend, "I'm a romantic, Bernie. I hear voices crying in the night and I go see what's the matter" (Chandler, Later 651). He is, then, a more appropriate role model for an adolescent sleuth than Hammet's detective. As Trites observes, adolescent literature is at its heart a romantic literature (15). At the same time, as she notes, romanticism has been "reformed by postmodernism" (16). The Flanagan series strikes me as an excellent example of the romantic-postmodern hybrid, its romance inhering in the story, its postmodernism in the discourse.

Flanagan as Narrator

As narrator and as character, Flanagan is both like and unlike his hard-boiled hero Marlowe. The latter narrates his own stories, a fact felicitous for his adolescent emulator, since contemporary adolescent readers prefer first-person narration, probably in part because, as Trites notes, the latter enables an adolescent voice to make explicit ideological statements, thereby affirming adolescent power (70). However, Marlowe as narrator almost never addresses his narratee directly, while Flanagan does so in various ways, thereby establishing a certain complicity between them, and by extension, with the reader. For example, he repeatedly uses second-person plural address, employs nosotros ("we") in a manner inclusive of the narratee, asks questions of and gives advice to, anticipates the reactions of and explains himself to the narratee. He even confesses to his generalized adolescent male narratee that he has felt fear and inadequacy, and that he has cried, something Marlowe, and the hard-boiled hero in general, never do.

The narrative voice associated with the hard-boiled novel is the wisecracking voice. The wisecrack has been defined as an ironic, cynical, and surprising remark that indicates the detective's intellectual dexterity and suggests his emotional toughness, since refusing to show pain or fear, he answers punishment with flippancy. He usually directs his wisecracks at the establishment and adversaries, although in later writers they may also be an element in exchanges with sidekicks, lovers, and innocent bystanders, as well as in internal monologues (Oxford 487). Analogous comments in Flanagan's case are ironic and surprising but not cynical. Cousins of wisecracks, they cover more of a spectrum, from ironic self-deprecation to gibes. They may be addressed to or allude to all the same groups as in the novela negra, but more often than with Marlowe, Flanagan's wry remarks are aimed at himself. If the wisecracks of the hard-boiled sleuth are a way of distancing himself from surrounding corruption and deception, reflecting a strategy for moral survival (Oxford 487), Flanagan's are often a way of distancing himself from his own fear, a form of psychological survival. In Alfagann es Flanagan he is explicit about his motive. On being shoved in a certain direction by a very big and intimidating factory guard, Flanagan expostulates, "'¡Eh, eh, un momento! ¿Qué hace? ¿Dónde me lleva, cómo sabe quién soy?' Toque de humor para que viera que no le tenía miedo: '¡Todavía no hemos sido presentados!'" ("'Hey, hey, one moment! What are you doing? Where are you taking me, how do you know who I am?' A touch of humor so he would see I wasn't afraid of him: 'We haven't been introduced yet!'"; 76). The irony in his parenthetical remark is obvious.

Many of Flanagan's ironic comments are metafictional allusions to particular clichés of the hard-boiled novel. The reference may be more or less explicit. The allusion to the generic convention may be present as an absence, so to speak, as when, escaping from the upper floor of a house in which he has been locked, and running down a hill, the narrator observes, "Nadie gritó a nuestras espaldas ni arrancó ningún coche ni sonó ningún tiro" ("No one shouted behind us, no car started up, nor did any shot ring out"; No pidas 154). In Flanagan Blues Band the standard attire of the fictional private eye helps convince the protagonist that Oriol Lahoz is for real: "¡Eh, una gabardina! ¡Y un sombrero de tela de gabardina, blando y arrugado! ¡Tal vez sí era un detective de verdad!" ("Hey, a gabardine trench coat! And a soft, wrinkled gabardine hat! Maybe he was a real detective!"; 13). Here the reference, while not explicit, is overt. Yet more direct is Flanagan's mental comment when, questioned by the police in the same book he responds with a question of his own and is told, "'¡Somos nosotros quienes hacemos las preguntas!' Hombre, esta réplica es un clásico. Debe de ser obligatorio incluirla en todos los interrogatorios de la policía" ("'We're the ones who ask the questions!' Boy, this reply is a classic. It must be obligatory to include it in all police interrogations"; 68). Still other times the metafictional references are explicitly expressed: "[A]brí la puerta con esa aprensión de los personajes literarios momentos antes de descubrir el cadáver de su confidente" ("I opened the door with the apprehension of literary characters moments before discovering the dead body of their confidante"; Flanagan de luxe 72).

One of the ways in which Flanagan most resembles Marlowe as narrator is in his deft use of figurative language, which in his case is frequently hyperbolic: "[L]a muchacha emitió un sonido tan agudo que se diría que un taladro te penetraba por la oreja y te hacía cosquillas en el núcleo del cerebro. Fue un chillido que hizo vibrar los cristales, que descolgó los cuadros de las paredes, que hizo que se levantara mar gruesa, que mató de un infarto a media docena de gaviotas " ("[T]he girl let out a sound so piercing you would think a drill was going in one of your ears and tickling you in the center of your brain. It was a shrill cry that made the window panes vibrate, knocked the pictures off the walls, roiled the sea, and caused fatal heart attacks in half a dozen seagulls"; Flanagan de luxe 174). His similes can be somewhat vulgar at times, as befits the hard-boiled genre. For example, Flanagan describes the emotional impact of his rupture with a gypsy girl as follows, "A todo el mundo, en algún momento de su vida, se le ha roto el corazón. Yo me sentía como si el mío se me hubiera roto en el metro, en una hora punta, y a continuación hubiera sido pisoteado por una muchedumbre de pasajeros, y como si algún desaprensivo hubiera utilizado los restos para sonarse los mocos, y al fin un chucho miserable se hubiera meado encima. Algo así" ("Everyone, at some moment of his life, has had his heart broken. I felt as if mine had been broken on the subway, at rush hour, and immediately afterwards had been trampled on by a crowd of passengers, and as if some person without conscience had used the remains to blow his nose, and finally some miserable mutt had peed on it. Something like that"; No te laves 11). The concluding sentence is an ironic understatement, given the preceding series of very concrete comparisons.

Flanagan as Protagonist

Most of the differences between the hard-boiled Marlowe and Flanagan as protagonists derive from one fact: Marlowe is an adult and an experienced professional; Flanagan, an amateur and an adolescent. Marlowe is thirty-three in the first of the seven novels in which he appeared, forty-two in the last. Flanagan is fourteen in the first novel, sixteen by the fifth. As Flanagan asks himself in a certain plight, "¿Qué hubiera hecho Philip Marlowe en mi situación? O, para ser justos: ¿Qué hubiera hecho en esta situación cuando tenía mi edad ?" ("What would Philip Marlowe have done in my situation? Or, to be fair: What would he have done in this situation when he was my age ?"; Todos 48). Flanagan frequently reveals to his narratee symptoms of the "impostor syndrome": "'No eres un detective', me decía. 'Sólo eres un chaval, un mocoso, que juega a ser detective.' Eso me deprimió. Primero, me deprimió y luego me enfureció" ("'You're not a detective,' I said to myself. 'You're just a kid, a child, who plays at being a detective.' That depressed me. First, it depressed me, and then it infuriated me"; Flanagan de luxe 70-71). However, later in the same book he rallies himself in another tight spot: "Venga, Flanagan, serénate. Sangre fría. ¿Qué hace un detective como tú en una situación como ésta?" ("Come on, Flanagan, calm down. Get hold of yourself. What does a detective like you do in a situation like this?"; 121; emphasis mine).

The Flanagan series does not underscore the hero's independence in the way the hard-boiled detective books do but rather quite the contrary. Marlowe's parents are dead, he is not married and has no close living relatives. Flanagan and his slightly older sister, Pili, live with their parents, who are obviously concerned for their welfare. Although he usually gets involved in serious criminal matters without his parents' approval or even their knowledge, Flanagan feels a responsibility to inform them when he won't be home for dinner. His parents are often the occasion of ignominy for the aspiring gumshoe. Once when he is on his way through the bar with his female partner-to-be, his mother intervenes: "'¿Ya has hecho los deberes, Juanito?' dijo mi madre, como si el único objetivo de su vida fuera humillarme y hundir para siempre mi carrera de duro investigador privado" ("'Have you done your homework, Johnny?' said my mother, as if the one objective of her life were to humiliate me and ruin forever my career as a hard-boiled private investigator"; No pidas 13). On another occasion, dressed down by his father for arriving home not only late but with obvious signs of having been involved in a serious fight, he comments wryly, "Jo, ¿se vio alguna vez Philip Marlowe en una situación semejante? ¿Le castigó alguna vez su papá privándole de la paga de Reyes?" ("Hey, did Philip Marlowe ever find himself in a situation like this? Did his dad ever punish him by depriving him of his Three Kings bonus pay?"; Todos 185). While Marlowe is unattached to the routine of the work-a-day world, Flanagan, besides being obligated to the routine of a secondary school student, has responsibilities in the family bar. Penalized one night by having to wash all the dishes, he mocks himself:

" Johnny Flanagan, detective duro donde los haya. Sherlock Holmes [4] meditaba tocando el violín, Pepe Carvalho [5] quemando libros, Philip Marlowe trasegando vasos de gimlet y Johnny Flanagan fregando platos con un precioso delantal rosa que le obligó a ponserse su mamá para que no se ensuciara la camisa" ("Johnny Flanagan, hard-boiled detective if there ever was one. Sherlock Holmes meditated while playing the violin, Pepe Carvalho burning books, Philip Marlowe knocking back glasses of gimlet, and Johnny Flanagan scrubbing dishes in a cute pink apron that his mom made him put on so he wouldn't get his shirt dirty"; No te laves 68).

In addition, Marlowe is in business on his own and has no partner or secretary. Flanagan, one learns in the first book, has set up his own detective agency, in order to undertake relatively simple missions for his schoolmates, but unlike Marlowe, he has a secretary in his sister, who also sometimes acts as his partner, as does classmate María Gual. Both private eyes have less than pretentious offices. Marlowe's is a room and a half on the seventh floor at the back of an old building; Flanagan's, a space walled by cases of beer stacked in the basement of his family's bar. Both work for money, though not for money. While it's not much in either case, Marlowe earns his living through his work; Flanagan earns spending money. The initial impetus of one of Marlowe's stories is a client's problem, but while investigating it, the private eye uncovers a deeper intrigue. Likewise, Flanagan's adventures always begin with a relatively simple case appropriate to his age but soon involve him in serious adult crimes, such as corruption of minors, illegal commerce in infants, racial discrimination that results in the wrong person being accused of murder, drug trafficking, sexual abuse, or diversion of funds destined for an NGO active in Africa.

Both Marlowe and Flanagan are knightly heroes in their way. The emblematic image of the knight--romantic hero if there ever was one--appears on page one of Chandler's first novel about Marlowe, The Big Sleep. The author refers to him in "The Simple Art of Murder" in a famous passage that evokes the image of a modern knight errant: "[D]own these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. . . . The story is his adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure" (Chandler, Later 992). Philip Marlowe's name is an amalgam of literary references, including Elizabethan poet Sir Philip Sidney and Renaissance playwright Christopher Marlowe. It is also supposedly an anagram of Mallory, alluding to Sir Thomas Malory, whose fifteenth-century chivalric romance simultaneously dramatizes the heroic deeds of the Arthurian knights and portrays the less glamorous side of knighthood (Oxford 278). In contrast, Juan Anguera's alias, Flanagan, immediately conjures in the collective Spanish imaginary, images of the criminal underworld and the North American film noir. As Flanagan asserts in response to a question about his alias, "'Todos los detectives se llaman Flanagan'" ("'All detectives are called Flanagan'"; Todos 37). Nevertheless, like Marlowe's, Flanagan's involvement in the more serious intrigues is typically motivated by chivalric concern for the victim, a strong sense of justice and desire for the truth, and not infrequently in Flanagan's case, a special feeling for the girl who seeks his help. But while Flanagan might like to be glorious, he does not take himself too seriously. In No te laves las manos, Flanagan, he draws an ironic comparison between himself and medieval fictive knights: "Entonces se me cruzaron los cables, como se les debían de cruzar a los caballeros andantes insensatos cuando decidían rescatar a doncellas de las garras de ogros de tres metros de altura y media tonelada de peso" ("Then my wires got crossed, as they must have gotten crossed on the senseless knights errant when they decided to rescue maidens from the clutches of ogres three meters tall and weighing half a ton"; 95-96). He alludes to the Arthurian myth specifically in Todos los detectives se llaman Flanagan when he takes on a mission for a client who cannot pay him: "Me encogí de hombros, interpretando el papel de Sir Flanagan, el Generoso" ("I shrugged, playing the role of Sir Flanagan, the Generous"; 37).

Like his hero Marlowe, Flanagan resists the more important temptations, including in his case the temptation to give up at those moments when he feels out of his depth. Like Marlowe, he also resists blandishment and bribery:

"¿Por qué no cogiste el dinero?", me había preguntado María Gual. Yo le había contestado que no lo sabía. Pero claro que lo sabía. De algún modo, el propio Mandamás había contestado a la pregunta al decirme que yo no tenía nada, ni nunca lo tendría. Estaba muy equivocado. Tenía algo, una sola cosa... y era precisamente la que él había intentado comprarme.

Mientras la conservara, pensé, nadie podría decir que el río de mi vida estaba completamente seco.

"Why didn't you take the money?" María Gual had asked me. I had answered her that I didn't know. But of course I knew. In a way, the Bigshot himself had answered the question when he told me I didn't have anything, and that I never would have anything. He was very much mistaken. I had something, a single thing . . . and it was precisely the one he had tried to buy from me.

As long as I preserved it, I thought, no one could say that the river of my life was completely dry.
(No te laves 240)

Finally, like Marlowe, Flanagan on at least one occasion has to give up the girl in order to maintain his personal and professional integrity. She asks him to tear up a photo that incriminates her father and to say nothing to the police. "Yo me aparté de ella, como si de repente su cuerpo quemara, negando con la cabeza, asustado porque estaba tentado de hacer lo que me pedía. 'No'" ("I drew back from her, as if suddenly her body were burning me, shaking my head no, frightened because I was tempted to do what she was asking of me. 'No'"; No pidas 173). A short while later he watches her walk away in the rain, knowing he has lost her.

At the same time, neither protagonist is a super-hero. Marlowe manifests several of the prejudices of his times, and of the hard-boiled genre, including racist, sexist, and homophobic attitudes. Flanagan's attitudes are mixed and changing. He approaches homophobia at least once, in an early passage in No pidas sardina fuera de temporada, remarking of the school custodian, "Era fácil imaginarle regando las plantas, protegiéndolas del pulgón y hablándoles en voz baja cuando nadie le oía. También resultaba fácil imaginarle acariciando un gato o haciendo punto" ("It was easy to imagine him watering the plants, protecting them from plant lice and talking to them in a low voice when no one was listening to him. It was also easy to imagine him petting a cat or knitting"; 48). Nevertheless, toward the end of the book his comment regarding the same person indicates that the man's homosexuality is not the problem for the narrator: "Aquella foto, aquella maldita foto, le aclaraba que el Pantasma no era un homosexual incomprendido. El Pantasma era un corruptor de menores, que es muy distinto" ("That photo, that accursed photo, made clear to him that the Pantasma was not a misunderstood homosexual. The Pantasma was a corruptor of minors, which is very different"; 172-73). No te laves las manos, Flanagan combats racism in the form of prejudice against gypsies, yet portrays even a positive gypsy character in somewhat stereotyped ways. Flanagan sometimes adopt the tough-guy pose, especially with females, but he is conscious of it as a pose, and the females in question see through it almost as soon as the reader. What at first blush seems to be a sexist passage in Flanagan de luxe relates the protagonist's reaction to a remorseful girl, a former romantic interest, who has been part of a joke played on Flanagan that has gone awry: "Cabizbaja, con el pelo suelto y llorando, se me hizo aún más atractiva que en su otra faceta, planchada, modosa y segura de sí misma. Pero no iba a ablandarme por eso" ("Crestfallen, hair loose, and crying, she was even more attractive to me than in her other demeanor, well-groomed, refined and sure of herself. But I wasn't going to relent because of that"; 144). I interpret this passage as, in fact, the implied author's parody of the machista stance. In Flanagan Blues Band the narrator apologizes to the narratee for his sexist solution of a particular problem: "Ya sé que era una salida machista, pero en aquel momento no se me ocurría ninguna más" ("I know it was a machista way out, but at that moment I couldn't think of any other"; 192). Flanagan's flaws make him more realistic and probably easier for most adolescent readers to relate to.

Grella points out that the hard-boiled detective-knight, finding himself in the midst of a moral wasteland, must somehow keep himself untainted. In the North American novels, the only way he can do so is to retreat into himself so to speak, unencumbered by the impediments of social and sexual relationships (10). Though Marlowe has a network of professional associates, he is pretty much a loner. The Flanagan series, consistent with its cultural context, and with an implied authorial message to adolescent readers, is quite different in this respect. Flanagan knows that he cannot by himself conquer the evils he encounters, that he needs loyal companions.[6] Flanagan is always aided by others, usually females, in accomplishing his objectives. His clients, often girls, become friends, and he also makes friends with other boys around his age, though not usually with those of the wealthy upper middle class, whose lifestyle and values are at odds with his own.

Although Marlowe is vulnerable to females, he has no real love interest until the end of his career. The women he and other hard-boiled heroes encounter are generally portrayed as dangerously alluring, with a wily, even predatory, sexuality (Oxford 277). Flanagan, on the other hand, falls in love many times, each love interest lasting for one or two novels. The girls he finds alluring are not the predatory type; one or the other may affect a femme fatale pose, but it is obviously only that. Nines, one of two girls with whom Flanagan thinks he is in love in Todos los detectives se llaman Flanagan, adopts "aires de dura Lauren Bacall"[7] ("the air of a hard-as-nails Lauren Bacall") when she compares herself to her rival: "'Sabía que vendrías, Johnny. La calidad siempre gana'" ("'I knew you'd come, Johnny. Quality always wins'"; 203). María Gual is quite ineffective as a would-be vamp. When she phones Flanagan, addressing him in English in a supposed femme fatale voice, "' I want to talk with the hard and sagacious private eye Johnny Flanagan'" (No te laves 236), he recognizes her immediately. On another occasion she adopts a seductive pose that causes Flanagan to report, "Viendo su caída de ojos, por un momento temí que se encontrara mal" ("Seeing her languid eyes, I was afraid for a moment she wasn't feeling well"; No pidas 16). His response to her not so subtle invitation to get romantically involved in Flanagan de luxe suggests a parody of Marlowe in The Long Good-bye: "'No nos compliquemos la vida. Ahora somos amigos y socios, y nos va bien así. Si nos liamos, lo nuestro no durará para siempre. Un día, terminará. Y entonces, dejaremos de ser novios, amigos y socios'" (9-10). ("'Let's not complicate our lives. Right now we're friends and partners, and it's working well for us that way. If we get romantically involved, it won't last forever. One day it will end. And then we will no longer be sweethearts, friends, or partners'"; 9-10). The real danger females pose for Flanagan is that experienced by many adolescent males, though articulated with Flanagan's customary hyperbole: "[Ú]ltimamente, me alteraba notablemente el hecho de pensar en chicas, y estaba elaborando la teoría de que no eran seres humanos, sino habitantes de un planeta hostil a la Tierra, enviadas a nuestro mundo con la misión concreta de acabar con mi sistema nervioso" ("[L]ately, thinking about girls was causing me distinct agitation, and I was working out the theory that they were not human beings, but inhabitants of a planet hostile to Earth, sent to our world with the specific mission of destroying my nervous system"; No te laves 39 ).

The world of the hard-boiled private eye is the metropolis, site of adventure and of moral degradation. In order to solve his cases, he relies on his knowledge of the streets. Marlowe moves mostly in and around the "mean streets" of Los Angeles; Flanagan lives in one of the shabbier sections of Barcelona. He initiates a description of it with the remark, "Aquí, en el barrio, cuando se habla de los Jardines, como cuando se habla de las Casas Buenas o del Parque, se hace en un sentido irónico, naturalmente" ("Here, in my barrio, when they talk about the Gardens, just like when they talk about the Good Houses or the Park, they do so in an ironic sense, naturally"; No pidas 90). In both milieus crime is endemic. In Marlowe's, the police themselves are often corrupt; in Flanagan's an occasional policeman may be corrupt or on his way to becoming so, as in Flanagan Blues Band, but more often the police are ineffective or inept. Flanagan de luxe makes them the butt of farce; Flanagan 007 portrays a physically clownish police commissioner who is nevertheless likeable, honorable, and intelligent.

The hard-boiled private eye is acquainted with people in all walks of life, and Marlowe often contrasts the opulence of wealthy neighborhoods with the decay of poor ones. Similarly, Flanagan's acquaintances range from the wretched inhabitants of his barrio's gypsy quarter to the residents of zones like Pedralbes, "el paraíso millonario de los bienaventurados" ("the millionaire paradise of the blessed"; Todos 55). His juxtaposition of the two types of urban area in the following passage is a sharp criticism of policies that permit the existence of such socio-economic extremes:

Bajar directamente de las alturas de Pedralbes a las profundidades de las Barracas es una lección de sociología que le recomendaría a más de un político. El contraste es tan violento que hace daño a los ojos. . . . Aquel que no esté a gusto en el barrio (en el mío o en cualquier otro barrio de la ciudad), aquel que piense que vive en el culo de la ciudad, sólo tiene que venir a echar una ojeada a este sitio para saber de verdad qué significa vivir mal.
(To descend directly from the heights of Pedralbes to the depths of the Barracas is a lesson in sociology I would recommend to more than one politician. The contrast is so violent it hurts your eyes. . . . Anyone who isn't satisfied in his barrio (in mine or in any other barrio in the city), anyone who thinks he lives the city's armpit, has only to come and glance around this place to know what it really means to be badly off.)
(Todos 76-77).

Both Marlowe and Flanagan are pragmatic in their M.O. Rather than rely on logic or reason like a Sherlock Holmes or an Hercule Poirot, [8] they follow their nose, do a lot of legwork, question informants, observe, and listen. A frequently recurring verb in the Flanagan series is intuir ("to intuit, to have a hunch"). Still, Flanagan does a fair amount of summing up at different points in an adventure and draws what seem at the time to be reasonable conclusions, probably inserted for the sake of the adolescent reader.

A philosophical convention of hard-boiled fiction is the detective's conviction that things are not what they seem (Oxford 90). One encounters such types as physicians who deal in dope, ostensibly good parents who abuse their children, and pillars of the community whose elegant appearance belies their unsound foundation. Likewise, Flanagan discovers a doctor who sells babies on the black market, a father who allows his boss to sexually abuse his daughter in order to keep his job, and a school custodian who has sex with and sells drugs to young boys. A common motif of the hard-boiled thriller is the practitioner of some sort of pseudoscientific or pseudoreligious fakery. To use the image of George Grella, the detective-knight must journey to a Perilous Chapel where a mad or evil false priest presides. The detective's "triumph over the charlatan becomes a ritual feat, a besting of the powers of darkness" (12). The culminating episode in Todos los detectives se llaman Flanagan involves a murderous doctor whose conniving housekeeper is a caricature of the spiritualist. They are bested by Flanagan and helpers in a scene that takes place, significantly, at a New Year's Eve party in which all the lights go out before the criminals are finally revealed.

Just as the hard-boiled private eye is regularly beaten up or otherwise physically endangered, so Flanagan suffers frequent physical punishment at the hands of criminals and actual or potential juvenile delinquents. In the climactic episode of Flanagan 007 the protagonist, partly through his own fault, suffers a pistol blow on the forehead. The narrator remarks ironically, "Flanagan, tío, ¡lo que te faltaba! El golpe en la cabeza que siempre deja sin sentido a los detectives de las novelas!" ("Flanagan, man, just what you needed! The blow on the head that always leaves the detectives in novels unconscious!"; 175). Since he, like the hard-boiled hero, is usually in a physically inferior position vis-a-vis his adversaries, Flanagan uses his ingenuity in order to escape from threatening situations or to rescue the innocent. In discussing the "rules of the game" of the novela negra, Andreu Martín mentions the inevitable hospital scene in which the murderer attempts to kill off his victim so that the latter cannot accuse him when he emerges from his coma ("Las reglas" 31). No pidas sardina fuera de temporada includes a serious and at the same time hilarious version of such an episode, which begins with Flanagan, pretending to be gravely wounded and delirious, being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, the only way he can get there on time to prevent the criminals from doing away with a classmate in Intensive Care.

The hard-boiled detective is able to perform the shady tasks of breaking and entering, shadowing, and shooting as capably as most criminals. Flanagan does a bit of breaking and entering in No te laves las manos, Flanagan and other books; shadowing, in Flanagan Blues Band and elsewhere. However, he virtually never uses firearms. The Magnum 357 he alludes to is in reality a high-precision slingshot, simultaneously a parody of the hard-boileds and a probable allusion to the biblical hero David. On one occasion, when Flanagan discovers the pistol used in a crime, he is alarmed. "Era la primera pistola que veía tan de cerca en mi vida" ("It was the first pistol I ever saw in my life so close up"; No te laves 174). Later, after trying without success to shoot the lock off the door of the room in which he is imprisoned, he pockets the gun as evidence, and it weighs so much he nearly loses his pants.

In the hard-boiled genre the effects of solving a crime are always limited. Because, as Grella puts it, the breath of the dragon of evil seems to encompass all society, the detective knight must accept only partial victories (13). One of several examples of a similar outlook occurs in No te laves las manos, Flanagan when the protagonist says to himself, "'No se puede ganar siempre, Flanagan. Tienes que aceptar que siempre habrá enemigos más poderosos que tú'" ("'You can't win all the time, Flanagan, You have to accept that there will always be enemies more powerful than you'"; 228).


Collectively, the conventions of hard-boiled detective fiction are ambivalent. Whereas some of them derive from naturalistic determinism, others elevate the individualism of the detective, with his uniquely personal code of behavior (Oxford 91). The Flanagan books deal with grave crimes for which there is no easy solution. The narrator strongly suggests more than once that his rundown, poverty-stricken barrio, especially the more sordid parts of it, do not promise much hope for those raised in them. Toward the end of No pidas sardina fuera de temporada, he reflects, "[N]ecesitaba un poco más de tiempo para explicarle que yo no tenía la culpa de que las cosas fueran como eran, que tal vez la culpa no era ni de su padre, sino del barrio, de aquel estercolero donde todos nos habíamos criado" ("I needed a little more time to explain to her that it wasn't my fault that things were the way they were, that maybe it wasn't even her father's fault, but rather the fault of the barrio, of that dung heap where we had all grown up"; 157). At certain moments Flanagan expresses an atypical pessimism. When the residents of his barrio, out of prejudice and ignorance, make scapegoats of the gypsies and take the law into their own hands, he observes, "Aquella violencia irracional, el hecho de reconocer a personas a las que tenía calificadas como buena gente entre las patrullas, dinamitó por completo mi fe en el ser humano y las esperanzas que tenía puestas en un futuro mejor" ("That irrational violence, the fact that I recognized among the patrols people I had always thought of as good folks, dynamited completely my faith in human beings and the hopes I had set on a better future"; No te laves 110).

But this dark mood does not last. The Flanagan novels put more emphasis on the other pole, on the adolescent private eye, who in spite of flaws of which he is only too aware, emerges as ethical hero, though one whose view of himself always remains ironic. Like Don Quijote's, Flanagan's role models are fictitious, but perhaps unlike the don, he is always aware of both their fictitiousness and the difference between himself and his heroes. At the same time, the series proposes that heroism, while admittedly limited, is possible even today, even for adolescents, especially if they work together. Ribera claims that through their main character, the series emphasizes such values as a sense of humor, vitality, integrity, concern for social justice, and a desire to put the world in a little better order, to the degree one is able (Premio Columna 29). These values accord with the authors' view of the adolescent novel as one that should transmit a positive message (Martín, "El escritor" 16). The series' particular mix of realism and idealism, of romanticism and postmodernism, has proven to be a winning combination among young people in Spain and elsewhere.


1 The specifically North American kind of crime story, popularly known as the tough-guy or hard-boiled tale, was created and made respectable by Dashiell Hammett in the 1920s and early 1930s. Sam Spade is his best-known hero. The novels of Raymond Chandler, which appeared between 1939 and 1954 and feature private eye Philip Marlowe, are generally considered a primary influence on the development of the hard-boiled fiction genre. The early hard-boiled sleuth is a loner, unaffiliated with the police or government, who, justified by his own code of ethics, pits himself against powerful villains in a corrupt world (Oxford 60, 198,199). Patricia Hart observes that the European understanding of North American hard-boiled detective fiction of the first half of the twentieth century was different from its compatriots' own concept. For European critics what stood out most in the, for them, "realistic" novels of writers like Hammett and Chandler was a special kind of social protest, while North American critics were more aware of the literary conventions operating in them. Europeans coined the term roman noir or novela negra for this kind of novel, whereas the equivalent term does not exist in English (13-15). The Flanagan series synthesizes the European and North American views.

2 The novela policiaca, or police novel, emerged in crime fiction after the Second World War. Its detective is a policeman, who, acting with institutional support, conducts more or less accurately reported police business (Knight 168). However, I think Martín is using the term here as equivalent to the American detective novel in general, especially, but not limited to, the hard-boiled novel.

3 James Bond is the hero of a series of novels by Ian Fleming, the first of which was published in 1953, the last in 1966, two years after the author's death. Bond, who is both crime fighter and espionage agent 007 in the British secret service, became a popular phenomenon in the 1960s, after the novels were adapted to film (Oxford 43; Rhodes).

4 Sherlock Holmes, detective hero of British writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, embodies the faith of late nineteenth-century, middle-class readers in individualized rationality, i.e., in "the rational scientific idea that events are really linked in an unaccidental chain, and the individualistic notion that a single inquirer can--and should--establish the links" (Knight 68).

5 The hard-boiled private detective Pepe Carvalho, who plies his trade in Barcelona, is the quirky creation of Spanish writer Manuel Vázquez Montalbán. Ex-Communist Party member and ex-CIA operative, he is the protagonist of a series of twenty-some novels, the first of which appeared in 1972.

6 According to Patricia Hart, most Spanish authors of the mainstream novela negra reject the individualism of the North American hard-boiled detective novel, believing that while the individual is important, society's problems cannot be solved by one person, but rather must be attacked collectively (206). The Flanagan books follow this pattern.

7 Hollywood actress Lauren Bacall is famous for her role in the film, The Big Sleep, based on Chandler's novel of the same name, in which he introduces Philip Marlowe.

8 Hercule Poirot, the Belgian sleuth created by British mystery writer Agatha Christie, first appeared in 1920 and continued exercising his "little gray [brain] cells" until 1975. Retired from the police in his home country, he undertakes a second career as a private agent in England. Poirot is known, among other things, for his obsession with method and relentless logic (Oxford 335).

Works Cited

"Andreu Martín." El Urogallo. Especial Bolonia (1989): 40-42.

Chandler, Raymond. Later Novels and Other Writings. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1995.

"Entrevistamos a Andreu Martín." Peonza (Cantabria) 37 (1997): 25-34.

Grella, George. "Murder and the Mean Streets. The Hard-Boiled Detective Novel." Contempora (March 1970): 6-15.

Hart, Patricia. The Spanish Sleuth: The Detective in Spanish Fiction. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP; London: Associated University Presses, 1987.

Knight, Stephen. Form and Ideology in Crime Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1980.

Lozano, Antonio. "Andreu Martín: criminal y decente." Qué Leer (Octubre 2000): 33-36.

Martín, Andreu. "El escritor y su personaje." El Libro en América Latina y el Caribe (Bogotá) 84 (1997): 5-17.

___. "Las reglas del juego." República de las Letras (Madrid) 47 (1996): 29-35.

Martín, Andreu, and Jaume Ribera. Alfagann es Flanagan. Madrid: Anaya, 1996.

___. Flanagan 007. Madrid: Anaya, 1998.

___. Flanagan Blues Band. Madrid: Anaya, 1996.

___. Flanagan de luxe. Madrid: Anaya, 1995.

___. No pidas sardina fuera de temporada. Madrid: Alfaguara, 1988.

___. No te laves las manos, Flanagan. Madrid: Anaya, 1993.

___. Todos los detectives se llaman Flanagan. Madrid: Anaya, 1991.

The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing. Ed. Rosemary Herbert. New York: Oxford UP, 1999.

Premio Columna Jove. CLIJ: Cuadernos de Literatura Infantil y Juvenil 71 (Abril 1995): 28-30.

Rhodes, Andrew J. 30 Nov. 2004

Rose, Margaret. Parody: Ancient, Modern, and Post-modern. Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 1993.

Sáiz Ripoll, Anabel. "Andreu Martín, el contador de aventis." CLIJ: Cuadernos de Literatura Infantil y Juvenil 124 (Febrero 2000): 7-22.

Satué, Francisco Javier. "Andreu Martín. 'Los jóvenes leen más y mejor.'" Delibros (Madrid) 49 (1992): 52-54.

Spufford, Francis. The Child That Books Built. New York: Picador, 2003.

Trites, Roberta Seelinger. Disturbing the Universe: Power and Repression in Adolescent Literature. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2000.


Louise Salstad

Volume 9, Issue 1, The Looking Glass, 2 January, 2005

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"Juan Anguera, alias Flanagan: Ironic Hard-boiled Hero"
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