cover image A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America

A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America

Oscar Martinez, trans. from the Spanish by Daniela Maria Ugaz and John Washington. Verso (PRH, dist.), $24.95 (192p) ISBN 978-1-78478-168-2

Journalist Mart%C3%ADnez (The Beast) tenaciously reports piece by piece on the accretion of gang-related violence besetting El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. This book is based on a series of articles he wrote for the website, and each entry details its own escapade." A well-connected mafioso twice escapes the clutches of the state and finally ends up serving time for murder. The bleak story of the paranoid informant's untimely end constitutes its own chapter. Another details how Los Zetas, a Mexican gang, consolidated power in Guatemala, which is crucial background for understanding a police massacre and the subsequent "chess game of criminal politics" analyzed later. Mart%C3%ADnez pulls the tarp back from the snake-pit tangle of gang affiliations, offenses, and revenge in overcrowded prisons that lead to periodic massacres. He tells of the perseverance of El Salvador's only forensic investigator in excavating a well, a tale that approaches dark farce. The book enters "strange and impenetrable worlds filled with code words and carnage, in which players function as it were just another day at work." Mart%C3%ADnez's reporting reveals shocking failures of the state%E2%80%94particularly of police and courts%E2%80%94but he avoids tidy lessons, preferring to let the intractable issues stand in all their cold brutality. (Mar.)