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Life Itself Hardcover – October, 1994

2.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In Taibo's irresistible noir-meets-magic realism approach, wit and politics are central to the narrative. Jose Daniel Fierro seems an unlikely candidate for police chief in the Mexican border town of Santa Ana. A crime writer who has never fired a gun, he's also something of a coward. On the other hand, he's a quick study, a mine of crime fiction and movie lore-and he's alive, which is than can be said for the two previous chiefs of his town, a communist outpost that boasts a colorful revolutionary and counterrevolutionary past. After Jose deals with his first few crimes, the story picks up steam when the stabbed and naked corpse of an American woman is discovered in the church. In her nearby motel room, Jose finds a bloody yellow dress and the picture of a young child. Looking for the killer sends him into the big leagues, at which point the narrative detours begin to make sense. Taibo (No Happy Ending) may scant suspense here, but he delivers on all other fronts, peppering his prose with dark laughs that illuminate the human condition.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Mexican author Taibo's sixth novel to be translated into English (following Four Hands, LJ 6/1/94) is not the average run-of-the-mill mystery or police thriller. By means of straight narrative, epistolary, and pseudo-chronicle techniques, Taibo introduces protagonist Fierro, a famous mystery writer-whose resemblance to Taibo is more than coincidental-called to Santa Ana as the town's newest police chief. His arrival is soon followed by a series of murders and even an attempt on his own life. After a lengthy exposition that takes up the first two-thirds of the novel, the denouement appears to be sudden and, in retrospect, rather arbitrary. Despite the bare-bones plot and disappointing climax, the quirky supporting characters and amusing self-parody make this work appealing. For most public libraries.
Lawrence Olszewki, OCLC, Dublin, Ohio
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 209 pages
  • Publisher: Mysterious Pr; First edition (October 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0892965185
  • ISBN-13: 978-0892965182
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,458,753 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
This novel starts off strong -- a desperate group of small-town officials beg a famous crime writer, JD Fierro, to take over as their chief of police. Not because he's qualified to hold such a position, but rather because he's too famous to be assassinated by the government or the judiciales. The crime writer, intrigued by such a weird offer, goes against his wife's wishes and accepts the job. And very soon, JD has to solve the murder of a young American woman who seems to be connected to the town's three richest families.
The premise is great, but unfortunately Taibo breaks from the traditional mystery structure. The narrative voice shifts from third person to first person, and countless chapters are written as letters by JD to his wife. These chapters, along with the ones entitled "Notes for the History of a Radical City," are meta-fictional and chart the progress of JD's novel on the city he is policing.
Unfortunately, the mystery takes a backseat to Taibo's experimentation. "Life Itself" turns into a novel about a novel, and this kills the pace and action of the main plot -- the gringa's death and the political wackiness that consumes this northern Mexican mining town.
In general, I'm not against postmodern mystery novels. "The Crying of Lot 49," for example, by Thomas Pynchon, works so well because of its multiple, tangled narratives. But Pynchon keeps most of the story in the same voice, and thus there is a consistency to the labyrinth he constructs.
But Taibo's shifts are distracting. And worse yet, they make the book boring. The "Radical City Notes" are just tedious. And JD's letters to his wife are unnecessary, at best, since Taibo never takes the time to develop this relationship.
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