The Queen of the South is Spanish writer Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s epic novel of drug running, murder and intrigue. It is one of my favorite Spanish language novels. I read it several years ago, but decided to reread when I heard of the debut of the TV series based on the novel.
The novel opens in the Mexican city of Culiacán, which is infamous as the center of the northern Mexico drug trade. The main character of the novel, Teresa is a 22-year-old Mexican orphan of mixed parentage; her father was Spanish and her mother Mexican. She has good features and if not truly beautiful she at least attracts notice. She is taking a bath:
The telephone rang and Teresa knew that they were coming to kill her. She knew it with such certainty that her hand froze in mid-air as she started to bring the razor down to shave her right leg. She could hear the popular band Los Tigres del Norte playing on the stereo a song about betrayal, treachery and drug transport—and she knew that her life was about to turn sour.
The full weight of drug lord justice was about to come down on the innocent Teresa. Her husband, a pilot hired by the powerful Juarez Cuartel to fly drugs across the US-Mexico border, had just been assassinated because his employers had caught him double-dealing. The cuartel’s penalty for his treachery was to kill him and all his associates. The voice on the phone warned Teresa to flee immediately—assassins were on their way to the house she shared with the pilot.
After this stunning opening scene, the novel flashes forward in time: A journalist, perhaps the author himself, is interviewing a mature and hardened Teresa in a Mexican villa protected by police and private armed bodyguards. Teresa is waiting to stand trial in Mexican courts, but the journalist is only interested in her early life in Culiacán.
After the interview, the story will pick up again with the details of Teresa’s flight from the assassins (presumedly obtained from Teresa by the journalist). The novel will proceed alternating back and forth from the Journalist’s interviews to the narration. The characters interviewed will always appear in the narration that follows the interview. I found that a very interesting writer’s technique that adds to the reader’s understanding of the underlying story.
Teresa escapes the assassins and the action of the novel quickly moves from Mexico to the Spanish protectorate of Melilla on the North coast of Africa. Melilla, located across the straits from Gibraltar only a few miles from mainland Spain is an ideal location for smuggling hashish from Morocco to Spain. Teresa, working as a cashier in a tavern, will meet a contraband smuggler. She and the smuggler become a romantic duo and by a twist of fate she will become involved in his drug transports. Unfortunately, the romance ends sadly and Teresa goes to jail.
In prison Teresa will meet the beautiful Paty O’Farrell, a bisexual woman in prison for drug trafficking. After they are released from jail, Paty and Teresa will become business partners and Teresa will start her assent to the top of the drug trade—becoming The Queen of the South.
The television debut of the novel as a multi-episode drama hit Spanish language TV in March 2011 and the series became an instant rating success for the Telemundo network. I have watched some of the early episodes and think that while the violence, romance and melodrama are sometimes overplayed the telenovela is generally well done. The acting, with the steamy Kate del Castillo in the title role as Teresa Mendoza, the Queen of the South, and the filming in locations in southwestern US, Mexico, Spain and Morocco are excellent.
The show will likely continue for a planned total of 62 hourly episodes. I can’t see that the story is worth that much viewing time, but that is the way with telenovelas. If you have the patience, it should be an exciting telenovela to follow.
Day 36: El Reina del Sur (Arturo Pérez-Reverte) (2002).