Book Review: Mexico City Noir

Reading a short story is like a conversation with the stranger sitting next to you on the Greyhound: the getting-to-know-you process is accelerated to an uncomfortable pace and then you never see the guy again. A compilation of short mysteries, Mexico City Noir doesn’t offer many exceptions to this problem. 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.

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.

The book was edited by the legendary Paco Ignacio Taibo II, who was of course able to assemble a star-studded group of authors, including Eugenio Aguirre, Eduardo Monteverde, and Julia Rodríguez. The writing is typically 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.  The pages conjure D.F. in all of its gritty magic, from the creaking edifices of the Centro Historico to the posh balconies of Polanco. In the end, Mexico City Noir gave me the ultimate gift: a brief sojourn away from the winter woods and into the tumultuous, steaming heart of El Monstruo.

*slang term for someone from Mexico City, D.F.