BEING A READER, Crime books

Bumping into Paco Ignacio Taibo II

It wasn’t a bit like the time I ran full-tilt into singer José Feliciano. There he was, a blind man trying to cross a foreign airport terminal and some kid comes crashing into him. I still feel bad about that. No, I’ve never encountered Paco Ignacio Taibo II in the flesh. Nor, for that matter, had I met any other Paco Ignacio Taibo – number one, three or whatever.

I didn’t even know PIT II, as he apparently refers to himself, existed until I sort of bumped into him by accident.

What happened is this: I wandered into a library over lunchtime and saw they had some old books for sale – three books for two dollars. Almost straightaway, I spotted two books I wanted. But taking only two seemed like a waste, so what to do about a third?

I looked through the names, but nothing rang a bell. I was running out of time. Never one to say no to a cheap crime novel, I ended up taking one marked with the library’s gun-sticker, the icon they use for crime stories – No Happy Ending by Paco Ignacio Taibo II. I could always throw it away if it’s useless, I thought.

When I finally started reading the book, I was completely unsuspecting. I was just going to read a bit to see if it grabbed me.

Many books, I must confess, don’t pass the first sentence test for me. Others I stay with for a paragraph or a page or a chapter and if I still haven’t felt that frisson of excitement – either because of style or content – that’s it. Some I return to later, when a different mood or mindset might make me more susceptible to whatever the book has to offer. Others never see me again.

This one started with direct speech: “There’s a dead Roman in the bathroom.” Turned out to be a Roman centurion in full regalia. This in Mexico in what is presumably the late 1970s.

Okay, so now I’m interested. On top of that, the writing has a certain nonchalance, an authentic style, which in itself is a rare enough thing.

About 170 odd pages later (and yes, they are odd), I want to fling the book down. The hero just died…

This is upsetting in the extreme. Heroes don’t die, not in entertaining crime novels. But then, this one is called… No Happy Ending. A bit of a clue, that.

Apart from the fact that this is one awesome little book, the incomparable Paco Ignacio Taibo II then wrote a sequel. Yup, a sequel. Not a prequel, a sequel. As in set after the events of No Happy Ending. Featuring the same detective who died in the first book…

How he does it? Sheer genius. I bow down, overawed.

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