I’m not a short story person. Reading a short story is like a conversation on a Greyhound: the getting-to-know-you process is accelerated to an uncomfortable pace and then you’re left hanging. Mexico City Noir, a compilation of short mysteries presented by the estimable Paco Ignacio Taibo II, does not offer many exceptions to this rule.
The book gets off to a harsh start with “I’m Nobody” by Eduardo Antonio Parra. The writing is strong, and the protagonist, a crazy homeless man called “The Viking,” is convincing enough to be thoroughly depressing. Like many of the stories to follow, “I’m Nobody” offers a brief glimpse into the brutal fantasia of one of Mexico City’s countless barrios.
I mention that I’m not a short story person because most of my problems with this book are problems I have with the short story, and not necessarily, ahem, shortcomings specific to this particular volume. As is so often the case with the genre, several of the tales seem slight; you can sense the authors stretching for meaning and falling back on cheap tricks to make up for the necessarily slender plots.
That said, Mexico City Noir was worth my time. The star-studded cast of authors conjure D.F. in all of its gritty magic, from the creaking edifices of the Centro Historico to the posh balconies of Polanco. The writing is punchy, and memorable moments transcend: a man uses a paper maché effigy to eke a terrible revenge on his wife; a cold-blooded yuppie resorts to murder; comedy legend Cantiflas poses a seedy proposition to a gringo private eye. Most of the authors are chilangos, and it shows: the syntax is alive with the rhythms of street slang, the boom of traffic, and the sizzle of tacos al pastor. Mexico City Noir gave me the ultimate gift: a brief sojourn away from the winter woods and into the tumultuous, steaming heart of The Big Enchilada.