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Monday, June 14, 2010

Mexico City Noir

Mexico City Noir is a collection of 12 crime-related short stories with settings in the various neighborhoods of Mexico City, from its richest to its poorest and most dangerous ones. The most intriguing idea behind publisher Akashic’s Noir series, of which this book is one of many, is that each collection strives to give the reader a good feel for life in the city in which the stories are set. I did not get much of a feel for the city of Boston when I read Boston Noir (the only other book in the series I have read), but this collection is a different story, pun intended. The tales vary widely in tone and style but they all seem to have one theme at their core: the corrupt police system of Mexico City is more dangerous to the common citizen than the criminals the police are supposedly trying to control.

This collection is unusual in another way. This is one of the rare times that the best thing about a short story collection just might be its preface. Editor Paco Ignacio Taibo II has written a striking description of life in Mexico City in the book’s preface entitled “Snow White vs. Dr. Frankenstein.” Taibo obviously loves his city and he correctly finds it to be an exciting and exotic locale in which to set contemporary Mexican fiction. However,Taibo is quick to describe how life for the average citizen of Mexico City is governed by the ever present reality that the local police are to be more feared than trusted. The stories that follow his preface illustrate just how dangerous local policemen can be and why they are such a threat to those they are paid to protect, even to the point that victims of petty crime are often afraid to report the crime to authorities.

Some of the stories are set in contemporary Mexico City; others go back decades in time. Some are told in a rather straightforward manner, some are a little harder to grasp, and one of them reads like something imagined during a bad trip on LSD. What they have in common is an excellent translation into English and the theme that the real danger in Mexico City is a police force that is so very often itself on the wrong side of the law.

These are stories of police brutality, forced confessions, bribes, rapes and assassinations by police gangs, corrupt priests and nuns, transsexuals, homosexual rapes, gangs of children on the city’s streets, homeless people who dare not stop moving during the day for fear of police harassment, and much worse. Those responsible for promoting Mexican tourism cannot be happy with books like this one because the overall impression it leaves with non-Mexican readers is a warning for gringos to stay the hell out of the city for their own good.

Bottom line, this is pretty good noir style fiction but it is definitely of the more depressing variety.

Rated at: 3.0
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