Reviewed by Suzanne Adam (Colombia 1964–66)
Photos of eight semi-nude cadavers still fresh and bleeding lie displayed on the table before Negro. His onetime schoolmate and friend, Francisco Rojano, asks Negro, an investigative journalist, to help him find the assassin, whom he suspects is Lacho, the powerful leader of a northern oil workers union. Rojano claims that Lacho is after the oil-rich land owned by the assassinated farmers, but Negro is reluctant to get involved with Rojano, an ambitious politician. He learns that Rojano owns an extensive tract of land bordering Lacho’s farm. He guesses that there’s more to the story than Rojano is revealing. To complicate matters, Negro holds a torch for his friend’s wife, Anabela.
The story is set in Mexico during the 1970s. The author, a writer, journalist and historian, takes us into the murky world of Mexican journalists and politicians, who are often in each other’s pockets. Negro, thus, makes use of his contacts among journalist colleagues and the chief of Mexico’s political police. He is a likeable character, but Rojano appears to be the perfect untrustworthy friend, depicted as a smooth-talking, corrupt politician: “. . . the pleats of his guayabera and the creases in his pants were painstakingly precise, and his brown moccasins were freshly shined.” Local caudillo, Lacho, is suspected of stopping at nothing in his greed for land.
Suddenly, no one is who he seems. I waiver from believing one then the other. Who is telling the truth? This sustained suspense makes Death in Veracruz a page turner. Negro arranges a visit to Lacho’s farm, named Mesopotamia, for there Lacho and his workers are constructing a self-contained, sustainable utopia, “a socialist revolution” through “honest competition.” Negro is impressed by the productivity and efficiency of Lacho’s empire and by Lacho’s concern for his workers.
The author reveals much about his characters through fast-paced, realistic dialogue. Sensuous Anabela is direct and tough-talking. About the local soccer players she says, “. . . they’re a bunch of queers. Why do you think they hug and pound on each other the way they do over a silly goal?” The author also utilizes rich metaphors to describe his characters: “. . . his eyes sweetly melancholy as if lost in post-coital contemplation;” “. . . an extraordinarily strong hand, a strange instrument of calluses and hard curved nails.”
Death in Veracruz is a gripping read for those who are interested in Mexican culture and history or who enjoy a well-woven, riveting “who-done-it” with an unexpected ending.
Reviewer Suzanne Adam left her native California for Chile in 1972 to marry her Chilean boyfriend. She explores how this experience has shaped her life in her memoir Marrying Santiago, published in 2015 under the Peace Corps Writers’ imprint. Her blog, “Introduced Species,” appears on the Peace Corps Worldwide website. She served as a Peace Corps community action Volunteer in Barranquilla, Colombia from 1964–1966.