The Austin Chronicle

New in Print

Reviewed by Jay Trachtenberg, May 21, 2010, Books

The Black Minutes

by Martín Solares
Black Cat/Grove Atlantic, 416 pp., $14 (paper)

Corruption is nothing new to readers of crime fiction. It comes with the territory. So, not surprisingly, everywhere you turn in Martín Solares' ambitious debut novel, there's the wretched stench of deceit and corruption, usually in high places. Set in the fictitious Mexican gulf port town of Paracuán, near Cuidad Madera, the first quarter of the book finds police Detective Ramón Cabrera investigating the death of a young journalist. When it's discovered that the writer had been working on a book about a series of brutal child murders by a fiend known as the Jackal from two decades before, Cabrera soon finds the young man's demise has links to those earlier heinous crimes. It's at this point that the story jumps back to the late 1970s and Detective Vicente Rangel's investigation of those original murders. It's only late in the book that we come full circle and return to Cabrera in the present tense. Along the way, we get perspectives from several different actors in both time frames. Fortunately for the reader, Solares provides us with a listing of the numerous colorful characters and their nicknames, ranging from police officers to drug runners to clergy to politicos, or it would be nearly impossible to keep track of them all. There are even a few cameos from real-life people, such as writer B. Traven (author of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre); renowned criminologist Alfonso Quiroz Cuarón ("the Mexican Sherlock Holmes"), who is called in on the original case; and popular singer Rigo Tovar. Not without a sense of humor, Solares also includes a former detective named Cormac McCormick and a congressman named Tobias Wolffer. The author doesn't paint a pretty picture of the Mexican justice system, so it's not surprising when we learn fairly early on that an innocent man has taken the fall for the real murderer and that corruption, influence peddling, and cover-up extend to the highest levels of government. The story moves along at a crisp pace but really picks up steam in the final hundred pages. Solares has been favorably compared to Mexico's master crime writer Paco Ignacio Taibo II. If this impressive effort, a finalist for France's coveted Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, is any indication, it would be criminal were we not to hear from him again.

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