Written by Jonathan Woods — In the Mexican town of San Miguel de Allende, Inspector Hector Diaz of the local constabulary has to investigate the murder of a young woman whose body has been dumped in the local plaza. Gruesomely, her eyes have been gouged out. It doesn’t take long for Diaz to discover that Amanda Smallwood used to be a local artist’s model and, importantly for Diaz, was a gringo ex-pat. This means the heat will be on to find the killer. One more Mexican death would, unfortunately, have counted for less. Such is the way of his world.
Helped, but sometimes hindered by his mostly lazy or incompetent colleagues, Diaz discovers Amanda modeled for several artists in the area, and while she took many male and female lovers, she never stayed with any of them for very long. The artistic community seems to be aflame with passion, and there are many jealous lovers or spurned suitors for Diaz to consider as suspects. As days go by with little progress, he has to fend off the rat of a local politician, Mayor Cedillo. The man uses every opportunity to hammer the detective, continuing a feud between the pair, which began in their school days. The investigation proceeds; a felon Diaz put away returns to San Miguel with revenge on his mind, and then a stranger tries to run him off the road. Amanda Smallwood’s boorish father arrives in San Miguel to take his daughter home, but then quickly goes missing, causing the stakes rise even further.
This is an odd book, and taken purely as crime fiction it has some obvious weaknesses. The plotting is rather desultory, and the ending and resolution of the crime come rather suddenly, and have little to do with Diaz’s investigation. Indeed, if I wanted to read a procedural, there are many better out there to choose from.
However, having blasted through a number of thrillers in recent weeks, I was in the mood for something different, and this is where the book delivers. The pace is slow for a crime novel, almost languid, and it fits Diaz’s approach perfectly. Why investigate when you can sit back and enjoy a tequila and a cigarette with your lover in bed? Sex figures prominently throughout though, as in life, it’s discussed more than it actually takes place. The author succeeds in creating a sense of place very well, and his descriptions of everyday life in the town and the way his detective moves through the lives of the other characters, observing but barely interacting with them, reminded me of Simenon and Maigret.
It’s a long time since I’ve read a book like A Death in Mexico, which has a unique feel to it. Co-incidentally, this is the fourth title from New Pulp Press I’ve read in the last year or so – the others were Hell on Church Street, Frank Sinatra in a Blender and Ugly Behavior. They’ve all been very good, and quite different from one another. A Death in Mexico is Jonathan Woods’s debut novel; he previously wrote the popular short story collection Bad JuJu & Other Tales of Madness and Mayhem.
New Pulp Press
CFL Rating: 4 Stars