Return to the Same City by Paco Ignacio Taibo II

“You start with an arms deal for the CIA and finish it for a group of Puerto Rican, gangsters in New Jersey. You sell a lot of shit to the Colombians, and you end up building a company to sell illegal crocodile leather because the business popped up along the way and you end up laundering the money of some people, informing others, and conducting commerce with the remaining easily duped mortals. Who are you? Who do you work for? There comes a time when only you know. Now even those who pay you are sure anymore. The business dealings of the Company are obscure, like the designs of Confucius.”

Author Paco Ignacio Taibo II’s novel, No Happy Ending concluded with his much-loved, one-eyed detective Hector Belascoaran Shayne dead. Return to the Same City finds detective Hector Belascoaran Shayne back, returned from the grave–along with an explanation of sorts from the author. These hard-boiled detective novels featuring Belascoaran are addictive, and I’ll admit I’m hooked. Taibo balances the dire violence of his tales with Belascoaran’s quirky world vision. Take the premise of a one-eyed detective, for example. In one part of Return to the Same City, Belascoaran is tailing someone, and he acknowledges how very easy it is to spot a man who’s sporting an eye patch. You can’t after all, he reasons, just blend into the crowd. Belascoaran has seen enough murder, crime, injustice and human savagery to dive into despair, and the scars on his body are roadmaps of his past, but somehow Belascoaran retains his sense of absurdist humour while he rolls with each catastrophe.

When the novel begins. Belascoaran is having a great deal of trouble adjusting. He’s nervous, and after a “week of paranoia and distrust. Irrational anxiety that came like a tropical storm, and filled his palms with sweat” he isn’t exactly eager to take a case–not even when the case comes in the form of a damsel in damsel who removes her blouse and reveals her breasts.

The damsel in distress is a persistent woman, and after haunting Belascoaran’s life for a few days, he agrees to take her case. It seems simple enough: a man named Luis Estrella is returning to Mexico. The woman says that Estrella, a slimy Miami drug dealer with connections to the Cuban mafia, is responsible for driving her sister to suicide. She wants Estrella to rot in a Mexican jail, and she believes Belascoaran is the man to do the job.

But after tailing Estrella and hooking up with Dick, a reporter for Rolling Stone magazine, Belascoaran begins to realize that Estrella isn’t just some lowly scumbag. He’s one of those shady figures with multiple identities–a shape shifter, on the CIA payroll–he’s one of those slimy men who glide seamlessly between countries, dining with generals, torturers and dictators, greasing the plans for drug deals, and weapons deals.

Weaving in the assassinations of Olof Palme and Orlando Letelier, the murder of Che Guevera, the sinister DINA, the CIA, and Michael Townley, Paco delivers another dark tale, and this time around Belascoaran is as endearing as ever. Confessing secret bath fantasies and shepherding two ducks around his home, Belascoaran must manage to stay alive while his new adversary would prefer him dead. And in a country so corrupt people create their own justice, Belascoaran must somehow balance the scales, stay alive and stay sane in a bleak dark, violent world.

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Filed under Taibo, Paco Ignacio II

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