Thirteen Crime Stories from Latin America – A Review

Thirteen Crime Stories from Latin America
McSweeney’s No. 46
McSweeney’s 2014, pg 270

Maybe I just don’t like crime fiction? I don’t read much of it. Perhaps reading this collection was a mistake for someone like myself? But I’ve read enough fiction with criminality and violence that I can only conclude something else was at work. As much as I tried to like the stories within and find something redeeming, if not in substance at least in style, I failed. I read one story after another and it turns out most of them are not that good. Lazy is a better adjective. I get the feeling that some of these stories are written by writers who don’t read much crime fiction either. Santiago Roncacliolo’s story is a case in point. It was essentially a police officer’s disposition of a crime, told in a linear fashion with little in the way of interesting touches. The subject, too, was just as uninteresting, a murder of a singer over drugs. There is, of course, potential in the subject but other than pointing out the drugs are a problem, the story is flat. Fine. Roncacliolo’s stories aren’t my favorite anyway. I think the best story of his I’ve read was in the the Future is not Ours collection. The next story by the Argentine Mariana Enriquez gave me a glimmer of hope. The narrator of the story is a woman who lives in a run down part of Buenos Aries. She’s a middle class woman, a little naive, who lives in the neighborhood because of the great old art deco mansions. On the street she encounters a dirty street child, the son of a crack addict who lives somewhere near by. She befriends the boy and he seeks her help when the mother disappears. The mother doesn’t want anything to do with the woman and jealously guards her son. Unlike many of these stories, the story resolves back into mystery when the addict disappears and the narrator is fairly certain, but not 100 percent sure, she has seen the little boy’s corpse by the side of  road. Enriquez’s story presents a couple elements missing from most of the stories: narrative mystery (as opposed to a mystery story), subtlety with her characters, and a resolution that is open ended. It is one of the few stories that doesn’t attempt wrap up a crime in easy terms. Another story of note was from Alejandro Zambra. It has his usual narrative adventurousness and is both a story and the story of a story. What makes the story suffer is the graphic sex with a child. As a subject, child abuse is fine, but there was something off putting about the way he wrote it, as if he enjoyed writing it too much. It is a touchy subject where art and crime meet and in the case I think he went too far. Speaking of graphic sex, several of the writers have something for transvestite prostitutes. Fine, but also a cliche. And why do they have to end up dismembered ? At least Enriquez gave her transvestite her own voice. The only other story of interest was Rodrigo Ray Rosa’s account of a drug clinic buried in the Guatemalan jungle. It was interesting, had an air of mystery to it and until the ending was well written. Unfortunately, it had one of the sloppiest endings that was just tacked on to finish it off. Finally, one last complaint: where are the women authors? There was only one Enriquez. A 1:13 ratio is bad. There have to be a few more women who want to write crime fiction. It certainly would have given a little more variation. So, no, I did not like much about this collection. One of the more disappointing things I’ve read for sometime.


One thought on “Thirteen Crime Stories from Latin America – A Review

  1. great review. you’ve articulated a lot of things i’ve thought myself about crime fiction. and nice observation about the female-male ratio.

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