Tuesday, January 30, 2007
I read several of Paco Ignacio Taibo's earlier crime novels (featuring the sometime detective Hector Belascoaran Shayne) some years ago and then lost interest. Taibo's detective stories aren't so much "noir" as satirical and magic-realist. The author is using the detective form to comment on politics and contemporary life in Mexico and beyond. But I was curious about his most recent crime story since he co-wrote it in alternating chapters with a real-life revolutionary, Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatistas still fighting in the Chiapas region of Mexico. Marcos's chapters are suprisingly comic (as well as tendentious and political, more what you would expect). Taibo's chapters are as comic as we might expect, but also political and critical. Both halves are "metafiction," drawing in authors and characters from beyond the novel's world--particularly both Spanish writer Manual Vazquez Montalban and his Barcelona detective Pepe Carvalho (Vazquez Montalban, also a poltical novelist using the crime genre satirically, died recently and The Uncomfortable Dead is in part an obituary or hommage). As metafiction, magic realism, politics, and satire, this "novel by four hands" is not that satisfactory as noir fiction, but its politics are actually very much in line with noir: the neo-liberal bad guys of The Uncomfortable Dead are the same as the evil developers of Chinatown and numerous noir novels and films. The novel ends not with a victory over evil but with a partial revenge against the evil that the authors see as permeating society as a whole. If a couple of bad guys are removed from action, it's only a drop in the ocean of evil. Belascoaran turns from murdering one bad guy to playing head games (or subversion, perhaps) with numerous unidentified "Moraleses", Morales being the protean bad guy or guys of this book. I can't say I'm motivated to go back and catch up with the other tales of Belascoaran (though in spite of its tendentiousness I enjoyed this book), but I am motivated to go back to the novels of Vazquez Montalban (who also inspired the Montalbano novels set in Sicily)--more on that series later.