Paco Ignacio Taibo II Essay - Critical Essays


Historian and novelist Paco Ignacio Taibo II is a rare breed: a critically acclaimed mystery writer who is equally well respected for his staunch political and social commitment. He has embraced the culture of Mexico with the fervor of a native. Much of his work, both fiction and nonfiction, reflects Taibo’s love-hate relationship with the sprawling, polluted, crime-ridden—yet ancient, cosmopolitan, and vibrant—megalopolis that is Mexico City. He appreciates the Mexican landscape and climate as well as the history, energy, and diversity of the inhabitants that is the country’s soul. However, he abhors the corruption that lies in the heart of the city. The corruption, according to Taibo, is the result of revolutionary turmoil that evolved into a modern civil dictatorship in the form of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), a party that, under several names, has exercised political power in Mexico for more than seventy years, sometimes resorting to violence and fraud. This has been part of Taibo’s underlying message since 1976, when he began using fiction to illustrate the causes and effects of past and present crimes involving the government.

Independent detective Héctor Belascoarán Shayne, introduced to Mexico in Días de combate (1976) and to the English-speaking world in the translation of the second entry of the series, An Easy Thing, is Taibo’s most famous creation. Inspired by the heroes of American and Latin American hard-boiled novels, Belascoarán has the introspection of Philip Marlowe, the toughness of Mike Hammer, and the detecting skills of Sam Spade. However, this private eye has a distinctively Latino outlook and style as he walks the mean streets of exotic Mexico City. A Don Quixote in a rumpled trench coat, Belascoarán tilts at windmills, knowing it is an impossible task, but hoping to get in a few good charges before he is knocked down for good.

Taibo himself has been a memorable character in several of his novels: He appears as Paco Ignacio in Some Clouds. His alter ego, popular crime writer José Daniel Fierro, is a protagonist in Life Itself and Leonardo’s Bicycle. Historical persons from the past—Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata Salazar, Leonardo da Vinci—often figure prominently in the stories of Taibo, who manages to make anachronisms plausible as he erases boundaries between supposition and truth and between fiction and fact.

Taibo’s mysteries, both series and nonseries, offer considerably more than simple whodunits. His language is concise and economical, with linguistic pyrotechnics used sparingly, yet the...

(The entire section is 1080 words.)