Friday, February 16, 2018


TEQUILA BLUE by Rolo Diez, tr Nick Caistor (Bitter Lemon, 2005)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

It’s not easy being a cop in Mexico City. Meet Carlito, a police detective with a complicated life. A wife, a mistress, children by both. He resorts to money laundering and arms dealing to finance his police activity. The money for justice must be found somewhere.

The corpse in the hotel room is that of a gringo with a weakness for blue movies. Carlito’s maverick investigation leads him into a labyrinth of gang wars and corrupt politicians.

This searing tale of a deeply flawed man trying to do some good within a corrupt system clocks in at less than 200 pages, but packs a huge wallop. Small but powerful. A word of warning: it’s what I’d call a ‘marmite book’, in that it’ll divide readers into love or hate camps.

One thing's for sure, it’s certainly not boring or run-of-the-mill.

Carlito Hernandez is a complicated man with a complicated life. He’s an underpaid detective in Mexico City, battling criminals while trying to earn enough to allow him to do his job, and also support the kids he has with both his wife and mistress. The consequences of his appetites.

Like many colleagues, Carlito has both personal and professional ‘side action’ going on: protection rackets and arms dealing helps pay his bills. It's just the way things are done in Mexico.

Carlito’s an interesting character: both deeply loving and rather selfish. He fights crime, and commits it. He has some sort of sense of honor, while doing dishonourable things to find justice – or pleasure.

When the body of a ‘gringo’ is discovered in a hotel room, it creates lots of new headaches for Carlito. His bosses want the case wrapped up in a certain way. But his maverick pursuit of the murderer pulls him into a maze of pornography, gang wars, and corruption among the country’s elite.

This is not an ordinary crime novel, or one that fits within much of the genre produced by US and UK writers. It is packed with machismo and misogyny along with corruption and crime. There's a sweaty seamy-ness to it. A thick atmosphere of grit and grime, dust and danger.

It hovers between energetic and over-the-top. But for me, for me, TEQUILA BLUE clicked.

I thought it was brilliant, scathing and satirical – like author Diez (an Argentinean native imprisoned decades ago by its military junta, who now lives in Mexico City) had a knowing wink and sly grin on his face as he was writing. Others may roll their eyes at over-the-top machismo, or struggle with the attitudes of some characters. But regardless of where you stand on that front, Diez delivers electric prose, with a biting social conscience beneath a grimy veneer of sex, drugs, and violence.

Marmite, but magnificent.

This is an extended version of a review I wrote for the first edition of Mawake Crime Review, a new project in Crimespree magazine focused on great crime fiction from Africa, Asia, Australasia and Latin America. 

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for newspapers and magazines in several countries. In recent years he has interviewed 200 crime writers, discussed the genre onstage at books festivals on three continents, on national radio and popular podcasts, and has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is the founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

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