“Out here the narcos have us all on the payroll.”
Mexican author Paco Ignacio Taibo’s intriguing novels featuring private detective Hector Belascoaran Shayne have deservedly gained a following in America. Frontera Dreams, which according to the author is number 7 in the official chronology, is not one of his best. This novella begins when the teenage daughter of actress Natalia Smith-Corona, hires PI Belascoaran. Natalia, a woman who named herself after a typewriter in order to sound “exotic” is missing. Belascoaran knew Natalia in the idealism of his high school days, and he still nurses an unrequited sexual passion for his lost love. The detective sets off to find Natalia, and his search takes him to the surreal border towns of Mexicali, Ensenada, Tijuana, Nogales, Cuidad Obregon, and Chihuahua—La Frontera: “that strange name used to designate a bunch of territories branded by the dubious privilege of sucking face with the United States.”
Thanks to Belascoaran’s long-standing crush on Natalia, she is “like a persistent fragrance in the mind of” this solitary private detective, but the reality is not quite the same. Soon Belascoaran is involved in a mess that includes: an indiscreet Televisa producer, a crazed stalker, the stolen prostitutes of Zacatecas, narcotraficantes, DEA agents, and various colorful characters. Frontera Dreams takes a look at Belascoaran’s past, and his sentimental illusions about Natalia, and then records the detective’s coming to terms with reality concerning the woman who has remained a significant memory for about 20 years.
Frontera Dreams is not Taibo’s best. The novella is sketchy and assumes a prior knowledge and affection for the author’s hero, Belascoaran. If you’ve never read Taibo, then it’s a good idea to start elsewhere, but if you are a Taibo fan (like me), and enjoy this author’s wry sense of humour, you will not be disappointed. Taibo’s novels may seem simply fiction, but as part of the “generation of 68” the author’s novels cannot be separated from the generation’s “collective memory”: the massacre at Tlatelcoc, for example, and this explains why Belascoaran shed his middle-class life (Days of Combat) to become a PI who meditates on the lives of Che, Pancho Villa, and Emilio Zapata for inspiration.
The ‘official chronology’ of the first 8 Hector Belascoaran Shayne novels:
Days of Combat
An Easy Thing
No Happy Ending
Return to the Same City
The Defunct Dead