The story begins with a post-coital conversation. There are cigarettes on a windowsill, a cold rain outside, gleaming lights below, and French existentialist text thrown at a very cynical head. The couple talk about death, about having died--the man seems to be an expert on the subject. But he claims not to be talking about the scars that cover his chest, but rather about a different, more frequent kind of death--a death that comes two or three times a week, and threatens every night during sleep. He's a tough guy, so he'd never admit it, but he's talking poetry--the minimalist metaphorical imagism of the hard-boiled detective, which is exactly what he is, a popular fictional hero being exhumed from the grave in these very pages by his reluctant but virtuosic creator, at the behest of a demanding public. The woman in the bed, for her part, has no idea of the game being played between author and reader, but she recognizes the poetic riff for exactly what it represents within this story, within this room, between these two lovers: it's an act of sidestepping, an avoidance of a painful memory, a refusal of intimacy. She turns away, displaying her round bottom to the eyes and mind of the detective, where it rhymes with the glow of the streetlamps on the trees below. But even with her back turned, she plays along with his verbal game, hoping to draw him out. But the game doesn't work for either of them: she eventually bursts into tears, from grief at having fallen in love with such a hard case; he tries to comfort her with a funny face, but what appears is only a grimace, a contorted rictus, proof that he is no longer capable of tender emotions: he is, after all, a dead man.
So begins the first chapter of Regreso a la misma ciudad y bajo la lluvia, by Paco Ignacio Taibo II, (or PIT II, as he signs himself in at the end of his preface, where he reveals his very commercial reasons for bringing his detective back to life.) The novel was originally published in 1989, and the edition I picked up is the 2012 reprint of the 2007 reissue, which I guess indicates that this book is becoming some kind of classic. I bought a copy in the little bookstore in the doorway of the Museo de San Pedro in Puebla, where I went looking for a catalog for the Neo Mexicanism show upstairs. But the bookstore turned out to be an independent operation, not an Exit Through the Gift Shop kind of place, so I started looking for a book I might actually read. A Mexican detective novel? Apparently a minor classic? I'll give it a try.
When I got back to Milwaukee and started to read it, I found it was tantalizingly just beyond my reach. Or to be exact, its Spanish was within my reading skills--if I wanted to study it. But I wanted to enjoy it--the way I've enjoyed the books of Dashiell Hammett, James L. Cain, Raymond Chandler and Richard Stark. So I checked on amazon.com and found that there was an English version: Return To The Same City, translation by Laura Dail, 1996. Used copies were available. I found a place that was selling the translation for $0.01 with a $3.99 shipping fee. So I bought my one-cent book for four dollars and waited waited 10 days for the ultra low-priority shipping. That's probably the only way an Amazon "Partner" can make a buck. Literally.
But the point of this post is the virtuosity of the first scene. The author opens the novel in a way that firmly establishes the qualities of his hard-boiled hero (virility, wit, sexiness, toughness, a damaged soul), simultaneously addresses and deflects the narrative challenge of bringing a character back from the dead, and suggests wells of deep emotion just below the surface of a story constructed out of conventional tropes. Well-played, PIT II!