No Happy Ending

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Paco Ignacio Taibo’s one-eyed investigator, Hector Belascoaran Shayne, describes himself as an “independent detective.” This label has a number of different meanings in NO HAPPY ENDING. It means that, unlike many other private eyes, he has no connection with law enforcement agencies. The case in question is unceremoniously dumped in his office building, and throughout the novel there is no evidence of a client, and not very much understanding by Shayne of what exactly is going on. He seems more ready than most detectives to use his gun to telling effect, and in general seems to have little regard for the forces of law and order. He is also more convinced than is usual for somebody in his line of work that crime is a public affair and has its roots in the political character of the State.

These ingredients combine to make an exhilarating and distinctly unconventional crime novel. At one level, NO HAPPY ENDING is replete with the fear and trembling, the paranoia and the unpredictability usually associated with the hard-boiled school of detective fiction. At another level, its experiments with different narrative strategies, its despairing laments for the quality of life in Mexico City, its analysis of the corrosive carnival on which the flimsy plot is based, seem calculated to exceed the genre’s possibilities. An expression of the author’s treatment of the form is the fact that while he supplies a surprise ending, what happens does not solve the case.

Such methods realign the investigator’s concerns. They move his sphere of operation from a traditional one of privacy and family secrets to that of the public domain and social conspiracies. Surrealistic, anarchic, and intense, NO HAPPY ENDING has appeal and interest beyond the limits of the detective story.