The Quarterly Conversation tipped me off to this review at the Nation written by the Translator Natasha Wimmer about the Black Minutes from Martín Solares. I’ve mentioned this book before and I continue to be intrigued by it. I think I will have to read it soon (and turn my gaze from Spain back to Mexico). Considering the troubles in Mexico the book seems timely, which may also be why it has been translated. Along with her praise of the book Wimmer gives some context to Mexican Noir, which is a new phenomenon, something that surprised me since I’m so used to the noir genre, even its imports from abroad. I wonder, though, if anyone can name noir works from Latin America as I’m at a loss at the moment?
Depending on how you look at it, the noir novel is either perfectly suited to Mexico or beside the point. It’s hard to imagine a plot that somehow encompasses the August massacre of seventy-two migrants in the northeastern border state of Tamaulipas, for example, or the Zacatecas jailbreak in late May when fifty-three inmates simply walked out of their cells. The scale of real-life crime is such that it dwarfs the classic private eye and makes him irrelevant.
And yet Martín Solares’s first novel, The Black Minutes, an uncommonly nuanced neo-noir—set, as it happens, in Tamaulipas—may be exactly the right book to read at the end of 2010, a particularly dark year in recent Mexican history. It’s crime fiction, but it’s also a meditation on corruption, and it captures the kind of nightmarish helplessness that many feel in the face of the tide of narco-violence sweeping the north of Mexico. In Tamaulipas alone, assassinations since June include the front-runner candidate for governor of the state and two mayors of a single small town over the course of two weeks. On September 19, after the killing of a photography intern, the Ciudad Juárez paper El Diario ran an extraordinary editorial asking the drug gangs for instruction: “We want you to explain to us what…we are supposed to publish or not publish…. You are at this time the de facto authorities in this city.” Scraping away some of the cool remove of the traditional noir, The Black Minutes gives a gorgeous, suffocating sense of life in Mexico’s sweltering northeast and an equally smothering sense of a justice system in which the concept of justice has been leached of meaning.