A noir-fiction city in the 21st century
26 / 06 / 2024
Language and literature

The novels and characters by José Luis Correa and Alexis Ravelo have turned Las Palmas de Gran Canaria into a potent setting for the genre

Two ways of experiencing the city. Two ways of delving into its darker tales, inhabited by questionable characters with even murkier ambitions. Two ways of shaping an entire genre anchored to a space, to urban landscapes, to an identity. And they belong to Alexis Ravelo and José Luis Correa, two writers born in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, whose writings include noir novels featuring their city as backdrop. Their books have earned them a loyal readership both within and outside the Canary Islands, and they have brought a contemporary flair to the literature of the capital of Gran Canaria.

Correa and Ravelo are essential authors in any immersion in 21st-century Canarian literature. Although they knew each other well, their literary careers developed independently, yielding a tremendous output that has placed them both firmly in the noir genre. And they have managed to create their work using a familiar, local and very tangible setting, devoid of inhibitions and brimming with the singular uniqueness of the city of Las Palmas.

José Luis Correa (1962) is a lecturer in Language and Literature at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, a position he has combined with an extensive literary production. Having received awards for short stories early in this career, he has also written poetry and is now a well-known novelist.

The protagonist of his most lauded fiction is the paradigmatic detective Ricardo Blanco. This character first appeared in Quince días de noviembre (2003) as a 40-something investigator, owner of his own agency in the city, who is introduced to the reader on a mission to infiltrate the lives of the upper class. ‘My bastards are wealthy’, Correa has said, referring to the criminals his anti-hero must deal with. That’s why the places Blanco goes in the Gran Canarian capital often smell of money.

Yet the Canarian investigator’s contemplative gaze is steeped in social criticism, often touching on the issues and problems of the world around him: immigration, poverty and social exclusion. Blanco takes on the mafias, populist discourses and corruption, while applying classic models of American noir to his own city, elevating them to a new, complex and human dimension.

Ricardo Blanco has appeared non-stop since his debut, featuring in the novels Muerte en abril (2004), Muerte de un violinista (2006), Un rastro de sirena (2010), Nuestra señora de la Luna (2012), Blue Christmas (2013), El verano que murió Chavela (2014), Mientras seamos jóvenes (2015), El detective nostálgico (2017), La noche en que se odiaron dos colores (2019), Las dos Amelias (2020), Para morir en la orilla (2022), La estación enjaulada (2023) and Un arpegio de lluvia en el cristal (2024).

Though working in the same genre, the approach followed by Alexis Ravelo (1971–2023) differed. He was a self-taught writer who worked many years in the hotel trade while building his career as an author. A skilled storyteller and playwright who explored various genres with passion and creativity, even children's literature, his work also features an iconic character: Eladio Monroy, an extreme anti-hero playing the part of private investigator despite never having worked for the police in an official capacity.

Monroy is a naval pensioner who earns a living taking jobs that range from protecting clients who are under threat to digging into shady affairs that expose the city’s darker secrets. Ravelo's strong male lead is mature, cynical and disbelieving, a resident in the city centre, halfway between the Port and the popular Vegueta neighbourhood, constantly colliding with unsavoury characters, who at times are also powerful people in Las Palmas society.

Ravelo's atypical detective drives the plots of the novels Tres funerales para Eladio Monroy (2006), Solo los muertos (2008), Los tipos duros no leen poesía (2011), Morir despacio (2012), El peor de los tiempos (2017) and Si no hubiera mañana (2021). In these stories, Monroy eats tapas in his favourite Las Palmas bars, drinks plenty of local beer and ultimately leaves his mark as one of those select characters of Canarian literature with a small place in posterity.

Both individually and combined, the collection of all of Ravelo’s and Correa’s works represents an enormous contribution to the cultural legacy of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in the 21st century. Theirs is a kind of renaissance of contemporary culture in the city and in the Canary Islands, which fans should bear in mind when making the connection between the reality and the fiction as a way to help forge the identity of the places described.