Saturday, July 31, 2010

Black Minutes by Martin Solares

While Black Minutes is both an engaging mystery told in parallel stories--one present and one twenty years earlier, it is more than a noir mystery tale. Sorales explores the political corruption that has beset Mexico since the days of President Echavarreta. The drug cartels rule and the tentacles of corruption extend to the police—on all levels.

In the fictional port town the Paracuan police investigate crimes; however, the politicians monitor their investigations so that they don’t interfere with the drug cartels. Often this results in justice being of little interest and the incarceration of innocent people.

The two stories: a young journalist, Bernardo Blanco, has been murdered and the police are investigating; however, it becomes apparent that they are not to follow certain leads. Their job is to find a culprit quickly. Their prying has parameters that must not be broached.

Sorales peoples his story with a huge cast of characters which he fortunately lists on three pages. The Paracuan police are, for the most part, comprised of officers who take bribes, have little interest in justice, and are quick to anger.

Ramon Cabrera, a detective on the Paracuan Police force is of a different ilk. He's honest. Even though he's told to leave the Blanco case alone he continues looking at leads ignored by the police. He seeks the answer to the question first raised by the police chief before that question no longer interested the chief. What was Blanco looking into? Perhaps the answer would lead to his killer.

He discovers that Bernardo Blanco was investigating a twenty –year old case —the horrific murders of four young girls. Rene de Dios Lopez had been convicted of the murders. Blanco wasn't sure that Lopez was the perpetrator.

From this point on there's a seamless interweaving of the two stories—the murder of Blanco and the murders of the four girls. Solares is a writer who feels comfortable with prose that is poetic, prose that wanders into magic realism, and the skilled use of a number of literary devices.

In the earlier story it is Detective Vincent Rangel who seeks justice. He, too, is told to leave the case alone, but pursues leads that turn out to have dire consequences for him.

Historical figures appear as characters within the story and are faulted for the corruption that envelopes the political landscape. Drug cartels wield enormous power in the book and in the Mexico of today.

Several thousand people have been killed in the drug wars in the past two years.

This is a fascinating book that is so much more than a crime novel.

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