RETURNING AS SHADOWS

Paco Ignacio Taibo, II, Author, Ezra E. Fitz, Translator, Erza E. Fitz, Translator , trans. from the Spanish by Ezra R. Fitz. St. Martin's $24.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-312-30156-9

Taibo, Mexico's most famous detective novelist, is not your usual plot-bound chronicler of shamuses: "The novel," according to Taibo, "like reality, like the histories we all know and those that befall us, is full of parentheses, pitfalls, ellipses that dance and that jump from side to side with no desire to settle down or to explain themselves." As this sequel to The Shadow of a Shadow (1991) begins, it is 1941, and Mexico, a neutral country, is buzzing with crypto-Nazi espionage. The Germans have three aims: to secure coffee beans for a caffeine-addicted Adolf Hitler, to establish a covert submarine base in the Gulf of Mexico and to complete some occult process involving Hitler's former adviser and guru, Eric Jan Hanussen. Hanussen, who has broken with the Nazis, is disguised as an inmate in a Mexico City nuthouse. His roommate, ex-lawyer Alberto Verdugo, rules as a sort of narrating magus over the story. Three grizzled veterans of radical causes oppose Germany's designs. Tomás Wong, a Chinese-Mexican, is surveilling a German paramilitary cohort deep in the jungles of Chiapas. One-armed Fermín Valencia Taivo ("the Poet"), an intelligence agent in Mexico City, is busting up meetings of pro-Nazi types. Meanwhile, journalist Pioquinto Manterola is getting intimations about the Holocaust from political émigrés. Taibo tosses in visits from Graham Greene and Ernest Hemingway, cuts quickly between times, places and topics, sprinkles his text with knowing anachronisms, and solves and dissolves his mysteries with a number of deus ex machinas. This is Taibo at his most laid back. His nostalgic radicalism will please some, but others will find the novel's smug attitude and one-dimensional characters a disappointment after the satisfactions of sparkling efforts like Just Passing Through (2000). (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 12/02/2002
Release date: 01/01/2003
Genre: Fiction
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