Friday, January 12, 2007

Book Review: The Uncomfortable Dead, by Subcomandante Marcos & Paco I. Taibo II

This so-called "four-handed book" has alternating chapters written by Marcos and the Spanish author Paco Taibo. It is self-referential even in its cops. Taibo's limping, one-eyed private investigator, Hector Belascoaran Shayne, gets to tackle a historical murder with El Subco's indigenous campaigner, Elias Contreras. Another equally fictitious sleuth - Pepe Carvalho - puts in an unexpected starring appearance, proving himself just as real as his creator, the late Vasquez Montalban.

The crime Elias and Hector coincide in resolving dates back to 1968 - which in Mexico meant something different to peace and love, and rather more like its opposite. The plot's intention to track down the murderer of a left-winger, imprisoned in a government swoop on those student activists not massacred in Mexico City, takes in much of that generation's history, and a lot more besides.

El Subco remains much given to philosophising; hence the whole chapters on distinctions between Bad and Evil. From the part of the world that brought us "magical realism", he explores the varieties of magic, otherwise known as sleight of hand by politicians. "There's black magic, which is the one you do with demons, and there's white magic... and then there's dirty magic, which is the one the politicians do."
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