Online Edition: Spring 2003

Frontera Dreams by Paco Ignacio Taibo II

Frontera Dreams

Paco Ignacio Taibo II
translated by Bill Verner

Cinco Puntos Press ($13.95)

by Kevin Carollo

Detective Héctor Belascoarán Shayne is not all there: in Frontera Dreams, he often looks in the "mirror without recognizing himself". By the time we reach this novel, the seventh featuring Taibo's beleaguered sleuth, he has endured myriad wounds, slashes, and lacerations. Although the action of a Taibo mystery stays close to the body, Héctor's injuries also document a larger history of what makes society unrecognizable to itself.

Frontera Dreams involves the search for a missing woman in the borderlands of Mexico. Héctor knows movie star Natalia Smith-Corona from childhood, when her last name was Ramirez. Natalia has named herself after a typewriter, becoming "The one she always was. The one she never was"--just like Héctor, just like Mexico. Through such depictions, Taibo stresses the impossibility of resolving the contradictions of life. This particular tome explores the televisual qualities of Mexico's frontier. Because the act of real life is most dramatically performed where languages, memories, and stories compete for center stage, where "You belonged and yet you did not", the novel keeps us--and Héctor--guessing about the nature and power of the "strange mix of territories" that make up the borderland.

Because of such concerns, the plot of a Taibo mystery may seem rather loose and incidental. The narrator cannot resist the allure of multiple metaphors and meta-commentary, and he revels in the spectral intangibility of everything--"A phantom detective on a phantom hunt for a phantom woman." Finding the phantom woman is only the beginning, however, for history is what we lose, forget, rediscover, retell, and lose again: the ultimate mystery novel.

In general, Héctor represents Mexico in its soap-operatic splendor precisely because a Mexican detective is "by definition a laughable solitary accident". The anomaly is the rule, and the incidental leads to the palace of wisdom. For Taibo, that palace is a strange borderland where stories can be retold until they sound reminiscent, but not the same. Frontera Dreams shows Taibo at his borderline best, in the heart of the heart of the country.

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Spring 2003 Table of Contents