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Death in Veracruz: A Novel Paperback – October 19, 2015
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Amongst the conflict, graft, corruption and collusion between PEMEX (Mexico’s corrupt government-owned oil company) and the powerful Oil Workers labor union, our narrator (simply called by his nickname, Negro) is an investigative journalist specializing in sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong. His lifelong friend Rojano is an aspiring politician and landowner, married to the stunning and willful Anabela. Negro has been in love with Anabela since his youth, but lost out to Rojano. But he remains in their orbit, as Rojano and Anabel slowly draw him into their schemes to rise in power.
Rojano’s enemy (and simultaneous political sponsor and mentor) is Lazaro Pizarro, a charismatic and ruthless leader in the Oil Worker’s union. Pizarro is rendered by turns philosophical, ruthless, cruel and yet clinically unemotional when ordering deaths. Each of the main characters is wholly believable and mesmerizing, but Pizarro stands center to me. As the leader of the oil workers union, he is trying to build the worker’s paradise in Mexico and will let nothing stand in his way. At the prompting of Rojano, Negro interviews Pizarro, and more or less accuses him of murdering people to advance his cause. Pizzaro’s response:
“Try to understand,” he said in a voice that was barely audible. “Listen to what I’m telling you. People there are dying at the rate of two a day just from drinking mezcal. Have you ever been in one of those jails? I was in the one in Chicontepec last week. One of the inmates had killed his mother. Another a friend he was out drinking with. Another raped his daughter and almost beat her to death. None of them remembered what they’d done. All that death and suffering was pointless. It bore no fruit. Nothing blossomed or contributed to the wellbeing of others. These are the deaths that must be stopped, the barren ones driven by mezcal and ignorance. There are always going to be violent deaths, that’s the law of history. It’s up to us to make sure they’re fertile and creative, that’s all.”
Death in Veracruz is a dark, classic noir, where nobody is who they seem, double crosses are common, and nobody can be entirely trusted. It’s also a love story, an exploration of Mexico’s culture in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and a hell of wild ride. You’re never sure whether you are being told the truth by the author or the characters, or precisely sure what’s actually happened, kind of a Mexican True Detective.
It’s an entirely atmospheric novel and well worth the investment of your time.
Death in Veracruz deals with the hunger for power and money, the corruption within the government, the unions and government-owned oil cartel PEMEX (Petróleos Mexicanos), the war against landowners in buying up all their acreage, all in the rush for black gold in the 1970s.
Politically ambitious Rojano has big dreams, to get as rich and powerful as he can. Feeding his journalist friend El Negro information about several politically motivated murders, seemingly all planned by one of Rojano's opponents, Rojano eventually gets murdered too.
El Negro, Rojano's friend and journalist, starts poking around in certain political corners to find answers regarding the murders. Not everybody likes it, thus El Negro finds himself in perilous situations often enough.
Anabela, Rojano's widow and mistress of El Negro, is grieving the loss of her husband and wants retribution for whoever did it, sparing no one on her warpath.
The characters and incidents are entirely fictional, yet (large) bits of reality weave in and out of the story. Aguilar Camín knows how to describe the México of that era. It takes a bit of digging in, especially without any knowledge beforehand and some research into key players might be helpful.
Jorge Diaz Serrano: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&u=https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jorge_D%25C3%25ADaz_Serrano&prev=search
example corruption: http://articles.latimes.com/1988-07-31/news/mn-10846_1_diaz-serrano
Death in Veracruz is a literary salsa with love, friendship, betrayal, murder, greed, corruption, desire, all mixed together.
Review copy supplied by publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a rating and/or review.
I enjoyed reading it and found it reminiscent of Raymond Chandler noir style. The narrator is a journalist who is contacted by a boyhood friend who wants him to investigate a conspiracy to murder people who won't sell their land to a powerful union boss. The journalist is still in love with the wife of this friend. She reconnects with him and seduces him.
He starts investigating, but all is not black and white. Even at the end I was not sure what actually happened. This book is full of corrupt oil/government politics in 1970s Mexico. The writing is very descriptive. "But everything else vanished in a stew of self serving fabrications, lies, false conclusions, spectacular coincidences, and the general messiness of life." I am surprised that the journalist never died of alcohol poisoning, since he drank so much. I give it four stars out of five.
I thought that the translation was excellent.