"The Uncomfortable Dead (What's Missing is Missing)"
(Reviewed by Guy Savage NOV 5, 2007)
“And I put two and two together, and I ask myself, like, what if it was the Bushes who’ve been making the Bin Laden communiqués, those messages from hell, in a porno studio in Burbank, California, where they even have all the desert you might want? What if they concocted the whole thing? What if it’s all a dream factory starring a Mexican taco vendor by the name of Juancho? But to tell the truth, even I couldn’t believe that crock, and I kept telling myself, You can’t be serious…But it does make a cool story, doesn’t it”
The Uncomfortable Dead is a detective story co-written by writer and professor Paco Ignacio Taibo II and Subcomandante Marcos, the spokesperson and strategist for the Zapatistas. Just in case you are one of the last people on the planet to hear about the Zapatistas, this is an indigenous insurgency movement based in Chiapas, Mexico. The novel, created by “four hands and twenty fingers” (and a couple of great brains) is written with alternate chapters by the two co-authors. So in other words, Taibo wrote all the even-numbered chapters, and Subcomandante Marcos wrote the odd-numbered chapters. Marcos’s chapters are told--mainly--by Elias Contreras. Elias works for the Investigation Commission in the Zapatista territories. There are no Zapatista detectives or policemen, and instead the Investigation Commissions conducts inquiries. When the novel begins, Elias is sent by El Sup (Subcomandante Marcos) to investigate the disappearance of a woman.
Taibo’s main character is a one-eyed Private Investigator named Hector Belascoaran Shayne who works out of a small office in Mexico City. In the second chapter, a very nervous man who’s been receiving messages on his answering machine from a dead man contacts Belascoaran. The messages are from Jesus Maria Alvarado, a political prisoner who was murdered in 1969 as he left prison. Some of the messages refer to a man named Morales--a man who appears and disappears conveniently as the political situation in Mexico shifts. Morales may be responsible for the disappearances, torture and murders of many Mexicans, or then again, he may be a fictional character outlined as part of the notes for an unfinished novel.
El Sup sends Elias Contreras to Mexico City (The Monster) to hook up with Belascoaran and solve the mystery of Morales. The book begins with each character locked into their investigations.
Taibo’s protagonist, the Private Investigator Belascoaran is a well-developed character who uses his “scars as signposts” to mark his own bloody history, and who bases many of his social interactions on the character of Smiley (played by Alec Guinness) in the BBC production of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Smiley/Belascoaran’s “interrogation technique” is to put on a “stupid face…staring at people languidly, not too interested, like he was doing them a favor, and people would just talk and talk to him.” Elias, on the other hand, is naïve when it comes to city life. This is his first visit to Mexico City, and he finds some aspects of the Monster, overwhelming. Together, Elias and Belascoaran join forces to hunt the mysterious Morales--a man who thrived in a country in which “the last thirty years have witnessed a great many dirty deals, many suspicious overnight fortunes, many unexplained affinities, a whole lot of shit that had to swept under the rug.”
These two writers have very different writing styles, but they each have a great sense of humor that seeps through these pages. Marcos depicts himself (El Sup) as a person who doesn’t have much luck with women, with a supporter making the observation that El Sup “was going to do some table-dancing at a ‘girls only’ club to raise money for the cause” and that:
“Elias was going to find the address of a hospital where they do gender-reassignment surgery because El Sup was a lesbian, which means he likes women, but the women don’t pay him any mind so he was going to become a woman so that they would.”
The novel is rife with many references to the Zapatistas, Zapatista organizational structure and beliefs, and also to Mexico’s Dirty War. Belascoaran’s laid-back manner is complemented by Taibo’s straightforward style. Marcos, on the other hand, uses his chapters to introduce several other voices. One chapter, for example is given over to many voices in an analysis of the nature of good and evil, and this chapter even include an excerpt from Don Quixote (Marcos’s favorite book). This blending of fact (the Acteal Massacre, and El Yunque, for example) and fiction weaves together a rip-roaring detective tale with a history lesson we won’t ever see in school textbooks. This would be a dark tale indeed, but fortunately, both authors possess a light touch and a generous sense of self-deprecating humor. Taibo and Marcos instinctively know when to apply humor to the story and when to dive down to the dark, seamy side of Mexican political life.
- Amazon readers' rating: from 2 reviews
Read an excerpt from The Uncomfortable Dead at Akashic Books(back to top)
"Return to the Same City"
(Reviewed by Judi Clark AUG 30, 1998)
I had a hard time deciding which category to place this book in. It is a noir detective novel, but it's written by a Mexican writer who adds that magical realism flair AND it is very funny. Héctor Belascoarán Shayne is a one-eyed detective who died in the previous novel of this series. Taibo's fans convinced him to bring back the detective. I doubt many writers could pull this off with any credibility, but in this setting it works.
So we learn about Héctor's experiences with having been dead, about the women with a pony tail, his neighbors and listen to him as he tries not to get hired. Of course he fails, and finds himself accidentally buddied up to a gin-loving reporter while tracking his target who happens to a be a very dangerous man- a CIA operative. Somehow, Taibo actually weaves some serious history and problems in the middle of these humorous encounters of Héctor Belascoarán Shayne. Recommended.
- Amazon readers' rating: from 4 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Calling All Heroes (1982)
- The Shadow of the Shadow (1991; 2006)
- Some Clouds (1992)
- Four Hands (1994)
- Leonardo's Bicycle (1995)
- Just Passing Through (2000)
- Returning as Shadows (January 2003)
Hector Balascoran Shayne Detective series:
- An Easy Thing (1990)
- No Happy Ending (1993)
- Life Itself (1995)
- Return to the Same City (1996)
- Frontera Dreams (2002)
- Some Clouds (2002)
- The Uncomfortable Dead (September 2006 in English) (written with Subcommandate Marcos)
- Mexico City Noir (February 2010)
- Our Word is Our Weapon (2000)
- The Story of Colors (2003 in US)
- Ya Basta! Ten Years of the Zapatita Uprising (2004)
- Conversations with Don Durito: The Story of Durito and The Defeat of Neo-Liberalism (2005)
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- Official Web Site for Paco Ignacio Taibo II (Spanish)
- Tucson Weekly review of Just Passing Through
- Cincopuntos page for Just Passing Through and Frontera Dreams
- A Practical Policy review of The Uncomfortable Dead
- Blog Critics review of The Uncomfortable Dead
- The New York Times review of The Uncomfortable Dead
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About the Author:
Paco Ignacio Taibo II is one of the most popular Mexican authors at work today. Born in Asturias, Spain, he has lived in Mexico since 1958. A historian, journalist, and writer of short stories, novels, and works of history, he is one of the founders of the international Association of Crime Writers. His work has been widely translated and published throughout the world. Leonardo's Bicycle won the Latin American Dashiell Hammett Award for the best crime novel of the year. He lives in Mexico City with his wife and daughter.