Paco Ignacio Taibo II and Subcomandante Marcos provide alternating chapters for this postmodern comedic mystery about good, evil and modern revolutionary politics. Huckleberry Finn by Thomas Pynchon

 


Paco Ignacio Taibo II and Subcomandante Marcos, The Uncomfortable Dead: A Novel of Four Hands. Akashic Books; Reissue edition, 2010.

In alternating chapters, Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos and the consistently excellent Paco Ignacio Taibo II create an uproarious murder mystery with two intersecting story lines.
The chapters written by the famously masked Marcos originate in the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico. There, the fictional Subcomandante Marcos assigns Elias Contreras — an odd but charming mountain man — to travel to Mexico City in search of an elusive and hideous murderer named Morales. The second story line, penned by Taibo, stars his famous series detective Hector Belascoaran Shayne. Hector guzzles Coca-Cola and smokes cigarettes furiously amidst his philosophical and always charming approach to investigating crimes — in this case, the search for his own Morales. The two stories collide absurdly and dramatically in the urban sprawl of Mexico City. The ugly history of the city's political violence rears its head, and both detectives find themselves in an unpredictable dance of death with forces at once criminal, historical, and political.

 

"Mexican crime writer Taibo and a real-life spokesperson for the Zapatista movement, Subcomandante Marcos, provide alternating chapters for this postmodern comedic mystery about good, evil and modern revolutionary politics. Elas Contreras, a detective for the Zapatista National Liberation Army (and Marcos's creation), heads to Mexico City to investigate the case of a nefarious government-backed murderer named Morales. Taibo brings back one-eyed Mexico City detective Hctor Belascoarn Shayne (Return to the Same City, etc.), who becomes involved in the case when he learns of strange telephone messages about this same Morales. Taibo's expertise ensures a smart, funny book, and Marcos brings a wry sense of humor. The authors mix mystery with metafiction: characters operate from beyond the grave or chat about the roles they play in the novel, and Marcos writes his fictional self into the story. Literary readers will nod and smile knowingly, though serious mystery devotees who prefer more grounded noir might be mildly annoyed by the hijinks. - Publishers Weekly
 
"A lot of strange stories have been circulating about the elusive Osama bin Laden, but none stranger than one put forward by a character in the Mexican novel 'The Uncomfortable Dead.' This fellow insists that the bin Laden we see on television is not the Saudi millionaire and purported evildoer at all. The man we see is, rather, a tall, gaunt taco vendor named Juancho who made his way to Burbank, Calif.,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review)
            
"As one might expect, the political trumps the personal in this curious mix of crime novel and position paper, but it is just strange enough to attract a cult audience." - Booklist
 
"This lively crime noir presents a very sad picture of present-day Mexico. Recommended..." Library Journal
            
"Messy detective story with a sharp, self-important political agenda....A disjointed work." Kirkus Reviews
 
"It's one thing to write fiction informed by your own supple leftism. It's another to use the conventions of noir...in the service of a cut-and-dried worldview." New York Times
 
"[T]he novel is more whimsical than political....At best, the novel is a hoot, but at worst it's a mishmash of cornball humor and warmed-over revolutionary musings." Washington Post
 
"What does The Uncomfortable Dead prove? Only that the endeavor was idle from the start. Is there a message it advances? Not that I can discern..." San Francisco Chronicle
 
"The novel careens from slapstick to sentimental to thoughtful and back again, often in the same sentence....On its face, the novel is a murder mystery, and at the book's heart, always, is a deep love of Mexico and its people." Los Angeles Times
 
"Original, funny, biting, and sincere, The Uncomfortable Dead is Huckleberry Finn by Thomas Pynchon." Tim McLoughlin
 
 "This isn't your ordinary left-wing noir satire co-written by Mexico's most famous crime novelist and the world's best-known revolutionary leader — it's a singular event in world literature." Neal Pollack
            
"It doesn't get much more delicious than this: the mythic, surreal Subcomandante Marcos and the wonderfully ironic Paco Taibo playing duet on a most unexpected story — a noir! But their collaboration is not just any noir — this one's tender, funny, sly political, smart, and just plain fun!" Achy Obejas     
Resurrection is a very Mexican act. In a city and country where you lose 95% of the time, resurrection is the way to come back, to find justice, to find light at the end of the tunnel. � Taibo, quoted in "H�ctor's Body," Frontera Dreams
The Uncomfortable Dead, "a novel by four hands" originally published in serial form, should entice readers on name recognition alone, and it will not disappoint. Subcomandante Marcos, spokesperson for the Zapatista movement, wrote the odd-numbered chapters, with historian and novelist Paco Ignacio Taibo II taking up the even-numbered ones, in what proves to be a stunning narrative about the various ghosts that continue to haunt contemporary Mexican politics and national identity. It is also uproariously funny, as if Marcos and Taibo are trying to make each other laugh to keep from crying. The American edition features a marvelous translation, in which both the authors' poetic sensibility and penchant for wry one-liners come across in equal measure. This is the contemporary world mystery at its finest: an intricate and engaging page-turner that keeps one guessing at how the authors are going to pull it off.
As one has come to expect with Taibo's H�ctor Belascoar�n Shayne series, the novel incorporates an array of bizarre tangents and political ruminations that situate the plot amongst the quotidian mystery of how Mexico provides for its people in the era of globalization. Just as the authors' share of the novel's proceeds goes to the Mexico-U.S. Solidarity Network, contemporary Mexican politics stands front and center in the narrative, and the dead continue to make history long after passing through the grave. The Mexico City-based detective Shayne, after dying and coming back to life in previous novels, now partners up with a dead investigator named El�as, who is sent by Marcos (or "El Sup") from the mountains of Southeast Mexico to Mexico City (or "the Monster") in order to, among other things, investigate a series of messages left on an answering machine by someone who died over thirty years ago. It may not initially seem plausible that the dead continue to make history, but they do, they do. The novel has great fun with metanarrative commentary about (and by) Marcos, who is everywhere and nowhere as a character, as he lets the manifold voices of his comrades speculate about his motivations and beliefs: "Campamentistas...should criticize El Sup for not being or doing what they think he should be and do, they should plan how they're going to export Zapataism to their own countries...but they should definitely not enter into metaphysical considerations. Neither should they wetback their way...into mystery novels, especially those that are written by four hands, twenty fingers, two heads, many worlds." And yet these considerations seem exactly what Marcos and Taibo want to encourage: what does it mean to be Mexican? What does it means to exist on the margins of the machinations of global capitalism? To find another way to survive this life, we must turn to the dead, the ghosts, and the wetbacks. Otherwise put, the material struggle for social justice always has a metaphysical component to it, and that struggle requires grappling with Evil in all of its forms. It also means dealing with the absurdities of existence head on: "Shayne was Mexican, so absurdity was his daily bread. He was Mexican and had only one eye, so he could see only half of what other people saw, but more clearly. In recent years he had been living on the edge, on the borders between strange territories skirting incoherence, irrationality, and extravagance; this, along with tragedy, cowardice, collective insult, impunity, fear, and ridicule." The detective, like the Zapatistas, inhabits the strange borderlands of the Mexican national imaginary, and this is precisely why he represents the people. Seeing many worlds with one eye may not sound like a viable political platform, but too often Mexican and world history have turned its many eyes to seeing but one world. As El�as is told by city comrade Alakazam: "And when we finally see what's going on, then it'll be too late, cause there won't be anything left when we get through looking the other way. And the worse thing is not that we're looking off where there's nothing to see, no sir, the worst thing is that they get us to think that their concerns, the concerns of the rich, are our concerns, and we take them like our own." The Uncomfortable Dead looks Mexico straight in the eye, and it is through this lens that we see the plight of the whole world. None of the hands in this narrative seem particularly nostalgic for the '60s (Taibo, of the "Generation of 68," has published a short memoir about that era's student movement), but they remain acutely aware of how history haunts the present. Add to this an elusive, evil man named Morales, the possibility that Osama bin Laden may be a former taco vendor named Juancho whose proclamations are taped in a Burbank studio and that the dead voice on the answering machine may also be that of the Mexican Barney, and it becomes abundantly clear that the uncomfortable dead have a lot of loose ends to tie up by the last page. Whether they do or not, however, is beside the point. Taibo's plots and pacing have always taken a back seat to revealing the many contours of today's absurd world. Though Shayne laments the state of his home city, he is still in love with it. Like Jean-Claude Izzo's Marseilles, Mexico City is both character and addressee, both polluted metropolis and aging lover, "whose inhabitants didn't know their neighbors and rarely even went outside to contemplate the dangerous splendor of the urban world." But neither Shayne nor Taibo will give up on that dangerous splendor, and neither should we. Marcos' narrators illustrate the differing worldviews encoded urban and rural languages. He is a talented, multivocal storyteller, harnessing the work of Garc�a Lorca, Cervantes, Leonard Peltier, Angela Y. Davis, Pablo Neruda, and Mumia Abu-Jamal, among others, in his fight against what chapter nine repeatedly calls "the Bad and the Evil." In addition to El�as, there are appearances from "The Russian" and "The Chinaman" (neither is from Asia), a clandestine paramilitary group called NOBODY, and a sympathetic transvestite named Magdalena. As nervy characters are wont to do, they assert the right to exist despite their apparent incongruity, "because the Zapatistas, you know, maintain that the world is not unique, that there are multiple worlds, and that's why they're sticking the book with a gay Filipino mechanic, a German pizza-delivering bike dyke, a jazz-loving French teacher, and an Italian cook who believes in extraterrestrials." The nation that claims these people as its own will survive the era of globalization. But there are better ways to exist; as The Uncomfortable Dead shows, the most important mystery of all is how we may best die, how we may best survive. - Kevin Carollo

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