Having neglected Latin American literature for too long, we’ll delve into this gem from noted novelist Paco Ignacio Taibo II (apparently known as PIC II by his friends). The author was born in
The Shadow of The Shadow (TSOTS) is a novel of Mexican revolution, of ordinary men doing the extraordinary, of military and political corruption, of unions vs. the establishment, of racism, and of the bountiful variety of Mexican life, love, and the pursuit of liberty. TSOTS follows a group of domino-playing friends through adventures and perilous encounters, all of which were started by a chance observation and a subtle set of inconsistencies, and which are pursued with the undying loyalty and hunger for the truth that bind the men together.
At the very start, we meet the main cast: the poet Fermín
The year is 1922. Men carry side-arms as essential accessories to any set of clothes, because these are dangerous times. The poet Valencia, who makes his living, such as it is, writing advertising jingles, is a five-foot tall, nearsighted and slightly-built combat veteran, formerly of Pancho Villa’s army. With typical bravado and vanity,
That very game is interrupted by a brief and unpleasant interlude with a trio of Army officers, who refer to our friends as third-class citizens and mock Wong's Chinese heritage. Wong responds by firmly punching a lieutenant in the face. With smooth coordination, the lawyer covers his friend with a pistol and the poet prevents the downed man from drawing his pistol, leaving the officers with nothing to do but slink off. Then, things really begin to heat up.
While waiting for a sketch artist to finish illustrating an article about the recent murder of two decorated Army officers, the reporter Manterola looks out the window of his third floor newspaper office and daydreams. After inadvertently tossing his cigarette at beautiful woman on the street below, Manterola watches, stunned, as a man flies through the glass of a 3rd floor window on the opposite side of the street. Looking straight through the broken window across from him, Manterola sees a familiar face. The reporter then rushes downstairs to record the details of the dead man and his fall.
An important subplot that parallels and intersects the novel's mysteries is the struggle between union man Wong and management, who use thugs and ultimately the Army in an attempt to repress workers' rights.
Meanwhile, another game takes shape alongside dominoes, one that Holmes and Watson would enjoy, as the men discuss, puzzle through and piece together some connections that link the recent violent events. Each brings unique training and skills to the game, in addition to a shared courage, and they unravel the mystery against the backdrop of union action.
The storyline is intricate but accessible, and it pulls the reader along with well-orchestrated suspense, reflection, observation and action. This is much more than a mystery story, however. Though it is never forced or heavy-handed, the novel allows us to learn about Mexican society of the 1920's. In many ways, it isn't a pretty picture, though we come across plenty of beauty in Mexico itself: the countryside, the Mexican people (no matter how marginalized), their courage under constant fire, and the language of the author all provide a welcome and often heroic contrast to the corruption and violence that stain nearly every political and business endeavor.
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