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Brown Gumshoes

Detective Fiction and the Search for Chicana/o Identity

By Ralph E. Rodriguez

Publication Year: 2005

Popular fiction, with its capacity for diversion, can mask important cultural observations within a framework that is often overlooked in the academic world. Works thought to be merely “escapist” can often be more seriously mined for revelations regarding the worlds they portray, especially those of the disenfranchised. As detective fiction has slowly earned critical respect, more authors from minority groups have chosen it as their medium. Chicana/o authors, previously reluctant to write in an underestimated genre that might further marginalize them, have only entered the world of detective fiction in the past two decades. In this book, the first comprehensive study of Chicano/a detective fiction, Ralph E. Rodriguez examines the recent contributions to the genre by writers such as Rudolfo Anaya, Lucha Corpi, Rolando Hinojosa, Michael Nava, and Manuel Ramos. Their works reveal the struggles of Chicanas/os with feminism, homosexuality, familia, masculinity, mysticism, the nationalist subject, and U.S.-Mexico border relations. He maintains that their novels register crucial new discourses of identity, politics, and cultural citizenship that cannot be understood apart from the historical instability following the demise of the nationalist politics of the Chicana/o movement of the 1960s and 1970s. In contrast to that time, when Chicanas/os sought a unified Chicano identity in order to effect social change, the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s have seen a disengagement from these nationalist politics and a new trend toward a heterogeneous sense of self. The detective novel and its traditional focus on questions of knowledge and identity turned out to be the perfect medium in which to examine this new self.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Series: CMAS History, Culture, and Society Series


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pp. 8-9

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pp. ix-xii

I miss Jimmy Smits and Esai Morales on the television series NYPD.
So there. At the outset, let me confess that as an academic, I commit the unpardonable sin-for academics-of watching television other than PBS. I suppose I could say that I watch it sparingly (that part would be true), but perhaps only as a function of the many professional and...

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pp. xiii-xviii

Unlike the celebrated private eye who often goes it alone against seemingly insurmountable odds, I have benefited greatly from the support of friends, colleagues, family members, and various institutions in the writing of this book. I am delighted to have the opportunity to thank them.

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Introduction: Alienated Eye/I: The Emergence of the Chicana/o Detective Novel

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pp. 1-13

Jim Carroll’s song ‘‘Three Sisters’’ makes explicit the truism that popular culture provides pleasure. Miranda does not want to trifle with the needs of the boys who pursue her. Rather she wants to kick back, relax, and cuddle up with Mr. Chandler, a bedtime pursuit much more appealing than the tough, lonely, urban world outside her door. According to John G. Cawelti, literary escapism...

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Chapter 1: Rolando Hinojosa’s KCDT Series: Instrumental Rationality and the Advance of Late Capitalism in Belken County

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pp. 14-33

Rolando Hinojosa’s writing has been dedicated to creating a fictional microcosm of social relations in the South Texas Rio Grande Valley and along the U.S.-Mexico border. He has developed a fictional county, Belken, with all the insight and inspiration with which Faulkner brought his Yoknapatawpha to life.While antebellum and postbellum race relations between blacks and whites absorbed Faulkner’s imagination, it is the transborder class, cultural, and social relations between Mexico and South Texas that occupy Hinojosa.

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Chapter 2: Michael Nava’s Henry Rios Series: You Can't Step in the Same Río Twice

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pp. 34-54

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus’s aphorism that one cannot step in the same river twice captures the fluid nature of history and identity. A body of water can, of course, be mapped and thereby identified. It is, after all, an ultimately finite, describable whole, but because it is always in motion no particular place in the water is ever the same.

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Chapter 3: Lucha Corpi’s Gloria Damasco Series: Detecting Cultural Memory and Chicanidad

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pp. 55-77

In her Gloria Damasco series, Lucha Corpi investigates the various historical shifts and constructions of Chicanidad since the Chicana/o Movement (roughly 1965–1975) even more systematically than her Chicano counterparts writing in the detective genre. Comprising Eulogy for a Brown Angel (1992), Cactus Blood (1995), and Black Widow’s Wardrobe (1999), Corpi’s series seeks to better understand how history and memory shape identity and to gauge their corresponding impact on political movements.

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Chapter 4: Manuel Ramos’s Luis Montez Series: ¿Quién Soy Yo? Crises of Identity and Culture

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pp. 78-105

Notwithstanding the havoc metaphysical detective fiction has wreaked on the tidy world of pat resolutions, readers have grown comfortable with the traditional way the detective formula unfolds. The experienced reader of detective novels may not be able to identify the criminal before novel’s end, but s/he knows the general outline of the formula and the expected plot patterns. Given that readers know these patterns in advance, language, setting, and character development carry an especially heavy burden.

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Chapter 5: Rudolfo Anaya’s Sonny Baca Series: Governing the Self in a Sea of Change

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pp. 106-124

While other mystery writers like Manuel Ramos and Lucha Corpi participated in the Chicana/o Movement as activists, Rudolfo Anaya took on special significance for la causa Chicana. Along with other cultural workers such as Alurista, Corky Gonzales, and Luis Valdez, he was one of the heralds and scribes of cultural nationalism. His writing in general...

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Conclusion: Looking Back, Pointing Forward

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pp. 125-140

Detective novels typically end with the mystery solved and a conclusion reached. At the end of my study of the Chicana/o detective novel, I find myself wanting a similar resolution, a conclusion that ties matters up. Yet, if Brown Gumshoes has taught anything, it is that these novels and the identities therein are as much about openness as about conclusion.


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pp. 141-160

Works Cited

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pp. 161-174


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pp. 175-183

E-ISBN-13: 9780292796782
E-ISBN-10: 0292796781
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292706965
Print-ISBN-10: 0292706960

Page Count: 201
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: CMAS History, Culture, and Society Series
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OCLC Number: 62763300
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Brown Gumshoes

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Subject Headings

  • Film noir ǂz United States ǂx History and criticism.
  • American fiction -- Mexican American authors -- History and criticism.
  • Mexican Americans -- Intellectual life.
  • Mexican Americans in literature.
  • Group identity in literature.
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