Rolando Hinojosa Mystery & Detective Fiction Analysis
Partners in Crime and Ask a Policeman, Rolando Hinojosa’s two police procedurals, are set in Belken County, a fictional locale in the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Both of these novels feature characters, particularly cousins Rafe Buenrostro and Jehu Malacara, who are introduced and developed throughout the diverse range of books included in Hinojosa’s Klail City Death Trip series. Therefore, these police procedurals are best understood in relation to the other works in this series. Although Hinojosa’s other works do not qualify as detective fiction, their challenging fragmented narrative collage of memories and documents requires that the reader act like a detective while searching for insight into each character’s behavior and experience.
The Spanish word for narrative or report is relación, which in The Valley Hinojosa also notes is a south Texas Latino term for “treasure.” Hinojosa views his narrative collages as treasure troves not only of Mexican American oral culture but also of more general insights into the human condition. Because life’s mysteries resist easy detection, Hinojosa’s narratives do not yield their treasure easily. His view of life’s essential mysteriousness explains his attraction to the police procedural, in which detectives try to extract truth out of random clues that might or might not be pertinent.
To represent this welter of life-clues, Hinojosa’s narrative manner mimics everyday small talk. In Ask a Policeman, one of Rafe Buenrostro’s colleagues describes small talk as a Rio Grande Valley custom of combining Old South gentility and Mexican graciousness. Hinojosa honors this custom in his writings. As the narrator in Partners in Crime further explains, civility in storytelling requires that both relaters and listeners take their time, otherwise the story being told will not reveal its treasure because it has not been true to life.
Hinojosa’s true-to-life stories highlight the unpredictable and inexplicable role of fate (luck, chance, coincidence, accident) in human lives. Hinojosa’s acute sensitivity to fate is aptly summarized in the title of one his short stories: “Sometimes It Just Happens That Way; That’s All.” The narrator in Partners in Crime expresses this same point of view when observing that people might not deserve the sudden intrusion of violence into their lives, but it occurs anyway. Similar to the point of view in Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s La vida es sueño (pr. 1635; Life Is a Dream, 1830), which Hinojosa can quote from memory, an incomprehensible irrationality determines what happens in Partners in Crime and Ask a Policeman.
Hinojosa’s homicide detectives must contend with caprice, especially good or bad luck, as life’s principal disconcerting element. They find, for example, that clues—such as someone’s use of Junior after his name or the absence of children from a school photograph—mean nothing. They find that juries are utterly unpredictable regardless of how open-and-shut a case might seem to be. They find that their own methods are basically haphazard and often lead to unexpected solutions. Hinojosa’s detectives sift through countless cues and miscues to reveal some specific...
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