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  • Crimes Against the State, Crimes Against Persons: Detective Fiction in Cuba and Mexico
  • Manuel Medina
Crimes Against the State, Crimes Against Persons: Detective Fiction in Cuba and Mexico. By Persephone Braham. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004. Pp. xv, 169. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $59.95 cloth; $19.95 paper.

This brilliantly written and presented cultural study of the new Latin American detective fiction proposes that Cuban and Mexican neopoliciaco writers have adapted the genre as a response to the ideological context in which they have produce their texts. Crimes Against the State, Crimes Against Person stands as a postmodern analysis of the adaptation of a literary genre that has engendered two starkly different manifestations in Cuba and Mexico. An introductory chapter places the book within the context of detective fiction while Chapter 1 explores the main trends in detective fiction criticism and establishes the book's theoretical framework. The two main sections, each containing two chapters, examine the development and establishment of the neopoliciaco in Cuba and in Mexico. An Epilogue draws conclusions about the detective fiction while suggesting, or rather envisioning, the path that the genre will take in Latin America.

In Chapter 1 Braham traces the origins of the genre to the mid-nineteenth century, viewing detective writing as a product of the conditions of modernity. Here she examines detective fiction's origins in Latin America and studies the enormous influence that Gilbert Keith Chesterton exerted on such key protagonists of Latin American fiction as Jorge Luis Borges, Alfonso Reyes and José Antonio Portuondo. Circumstances endemic to Latin America created a tendency in the reception of detective fiction: to view it as parody, as defined by Mikhail Bakhtin. Braham explains that at the onset of the Latin American detective novel, literary critics used parody to promote subversive ideologies. However, the neopoliciaco stands out because it has evolved completely from the initial stages of the genre in Latin America. In its postmodern stages, Latin American fiction writers have proven that the fusion of ideological and aesthetic concerns can create works that keep up with the transgressive nature of the genre, in terms both of content and form.

The book's main sections study the evolution of Cuban and Mexican detective fiction and show how in each society writers have adapted aesthetic models to promote different ideological approaches. Braham argues that in Cuba, the socialist detective fiction initially presented a propagandistic model; detective fiction sought to subvert the American-Anglo model. However, citing Leonardo Padura Fuentes as a key example, Braham notices that since 1980 a new trend has emerged which questions the values promoted by that earlier discourse, in particular long-established models of the role of gender. Padura Fuentes's criticism relies on aesthetic and political concerns to question the revolution's "machista" attitude and a moral masquerade of values.

The second main section examines how Mexican detective fiction contests official ideology in that country. Braham opens her argument by explaining that in the Mexican detective novel, criminals are the national institutions (police, government, unions). She goes on to declare that the Mexican neopoliciaco contests the official [End Page 282] or traditional characteristic of mexicanidad, a love of death. Chapter 4 studies Mexican detective fiction's questioning of the judicial system. Reading Ibargüengoitia, Braham notices his parody as a critique of employing crime as a commodity. In Chapter 5, Braham reads Pablo Ignacio Taibo II and Carmen Boullosa to present how they each deliver a modified version of criticism by concentrating on "figures and events from real life in Mexico" (p. 99). For Taibo and Boullosa, the quotidian Mexican chaos touches everybody.

This thoroughly researched and masterfully written book is highly recommended to those interested in Latin American fiction, detective fiction and postmodernity. It provides a fresh reading of the Cuban and Mexican detective novel produced in the late-twentieth century and its relationship with the social and political moments in which these works were produced.

Manuel Medina
University of Louisville
Louisville, Kentucky


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