In the fictional world created by Martin Solares: Detective Ramón Cabrera parked his car and walked into the Paracuán police headquarters. He went directly to the chief’s office and opened the door. As soon as he entered the office he was ambushed by officer Chávez who was wearing brass knuckles on his right fist. Fighting for his life, Cabrera got some good hits, but the brass knuckles worn by El Chaneque, as Chávez was called, were too much advantage. Luckily for Cabrera, other officers arrived to separate the two men.
What was the bloody fight about? Cabrera was investigating the murder of a reporter digging up facts surrounding the trial of a serial killer who was convicted 25 years earlier (in the 70s) on evidence cooked up by Chávez. By all accounts, an innocent man had been convicted of murders he could not have committed (the man had solid alibis, but Chávez had extorted witnesses to lie at the trial). Chávez was warning Cabrera to stop his investigation.
Justice is fickle in this fictional Mexican city on the East coast of Mexico in the state of Tamaulipas just south of the US-Mexico border. The Black Minutes by Martín Solares is a violent story of the search for a serial murderer in a fictional world of police brutality, corruption and government ineptitude. There are some comic scenes and there are moving and tranquil moments that lighten the reading, but the overall impact is one of grim reality.
The author uses the sometimes over-worked technique of magic realism to good effect. At the conclusion of the fight scene described above, the stunned Cabrera hobbled from the police station and started to drive to the hospital for first aid. When he stopped at a traffic light he was deliberately rammed by a pickup. The pickup turned around to ram him again and:
Meanwhile, Cabrera watched the pickup coming closer and heard a Rigo Tovar song on the radio:
Oh! It’s so good to see you again! /
To say hello and know you’re happy. /
Oh! It’s so good to see you again. /
So pretty, so beautiful, and so happy.
When he asked himself why he could hear it so clearly, he realized it was none other than Rigo Tovar himself in the backseat. The best singer of música tropical on the planet was there, right next to the girls, behind the driver’s seat! Rigo, who was wearing a white suit and dark glasses, was playing the guiro with a lot of feeling. Cabrera smiled at him: Man, what a huge honor, Rigo Tovar in my car. Rigo sang:
That day when you left /
I found myself alone and sad in the park /
trying to figure out a reason /
why you were so angry.
Note: Rigo Tovar was born in Matamoros in the state of Tamaulipas; he is famous for his cumbia songs and is a pioneer in the Mexican rock/fusion genre.
Detective Cabrera recovers his senses in time to save his life, but he ends up in the hospital. Cabrera is not your usual fictional Mexican cop; he is hard working and follows the evidence of a crime wherever it leads, and in this novel it leads him to a bad end.
With Cabrera safely in the hospital, the novel employs a flash-back to present the story of Vincent Rangel the detective who investigated the serial murders in the 70s. Rangel discovered the actual murderer, but the murderer was well connected politically. Untouchable by police. Chávez suppressed Rangel’s evidence with the support of another officer who then was promoted to chief of police on the basis of that wrongful conviction.
The novel returns to the present when another murder is committed and the fallacy of the original conviction exposed, but that is not the end of the story. The lives of Cabrera and the murderer and his powerful protectors are on a collision course.
I read this novel in Spanish when it first was published in 2006 and have subsequently read the Kindle version in English. The translation is a good one; I am continually amazed by how translators can convert colloquial Spanish into readable English. If you can, however, read the original—that’s always good advice.
Martín Solares, a native of Tampico, in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, which is located adjacent to the southeast tip of Texas. Solares used Tampico as the model for the fictional town of Paracuán and many locations in Tamaulipas are used in the book.
Solares, in his first novel has provided some new insight into the violent history of the Mexican states along the US-Mexican border. But, if you read the novel, be prepared for a sometimes-frightening story in which there are no winners. This is fiction noir at its best.
Day 56: The Black Minutes (Los Minutos Negros), Martín Solares (2006).