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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Death in Veracruz

Héctor Aguilar Camín

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To purchase Death in Veracruz

Title: Death in Veracruz
Author: Héctor Aguilar Camín
Genre: Novel
Written: 1985 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 295 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Death in Veracruz - US
Morir en el Golfo - US
Death in Veracruz - UK
Death in Veracruz - Canada
Death in Veracruz - India
La mort à Veracruz - France
Der Kazike - Deutschland
Morire a Veracruz - Italia
Morir en el Golfo - España
  • Spanish title: Morir en el Golfo
  • Translated by Chandler Thompson

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Our Assessment:

B : solid dark tale of politics and personalities in 1970s Mexico

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 24/8/2015 .
Wall St. Journal . 2/10/2015 Tom Nolan

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) gritty and convincing, though a tad dated, tale of murder and corruption (...) While Camín’s style recalls Robert Stone more than it does the noir fiction of three decades ago, he obviously possesses an intimate knowledge of the Mexican sociopolitical landscape, and this is a revealing time capsule." - Publishers Weekly

  • "(A)t its heart, the book is the noir romance of one man’s unquenched passion for an old college friend’s wife. (...) The farther the columnist ventures into this alien world of plots and counterplots, of fatal violence and total retribution, the harder it is for him to pin down objective reality." - Tom Nolan, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Death in Veracruz is narrated by a journalist who begins his story:

     What more is there to say about Rojano ? It's a sob story better left untold.
       But, in fact, he goes on to recount Francisco Rojano's whole story -- at least insofar as it touched him -- and it is central to Death in Veracruz. The two were schoolmates and then studied together at university -- neither completing their law studies (though that doesn't stop Rojano from claiming he is an attorney on his business card). Both the narrator and Rojano were obsessed by the same girl, Anabela, but it was Rojano that married her.
       In the mid-1970s the narrator comes into contact with Rojano again. The narrator is a fairly successful journalist by now, with his own column, while Rojano has been establishing himself in the (eternally-)ruling party, the PRI, and now has his eyes set on becoming mayor of the very out-of-the-way town of Chicontepec. Rojano shows the narrator a file about some shootouts that happened in Veracruz, pointing out some unusual aspects to them. The man Rojano suggests is at the center of things is one Lázaro Pizarro, a rising local PEMEX (the Mexican national oil company) union leader who seems to have designs on the land owned by some of the shooting victims -- land similar to that Rojano and his wife own. But Pizarro isn't so much feared antagonist as feared ally, as the powerful man is also central in helping Rojano's political ambitions.
       The narrator doesn't dig right in, but eventually does look into the murders and murky dealings. While Rojano has slowly been rising up the ranks, Pizarro has already established himself as a force to be reckoned with. A strong, ascetic personality, he has done a great deal for the local union workers and consolidated a great deal of power. After several attempts on his life, he now has a retinue of bodyguards and careful safety measures. The journalist meets him and sees how he wields his power -- generously, but with a very strong hand.
       Pizarro -- very much the political pro -- observes:
You people, Rojano and you, are amateurs. Like so many others who claim to know and practice politics, you're just amateurs.
       Nevertheless, he helps install Rojano as mayor of Chicontepec. The town is a tiny backwater for now, but the plans PEMEX and the government have would completely transform it, into a huge, thriving area.
       The narrator has to wonder -- almost all the time -- whether he isn't being set up with the information he is being fed: he repeatedly finds himself apparently being manipulated and isn't entirely sure where the truth lies. Things get more complicated when Rojano proves not to be up to the challenges and doesn't play the political game right -- and pays for it. And Anabela, out for vengeance, plays her own games with her old flame, which further complicates things in his mind and heart.
       Death in Veracruz offers a solid picture of the Mexican political scene in the 1970s, and also the complications caused by the local oil wealth. The narrator muddles through the various goings-on higher up, and knows he has to play a careful game with Pizarro, as people rather easily wind up dead in this particular world. It makes for a reasonably successful political noir, convincingly depicting how much of Mexican politics, from the local to national levels, functioned.
       The novel is dominated, however, by Pizarro's forceful personality, by far the most interesting (and successful) part of the novel. The mysterious Pizarro and the way he exerts and holds power is very well presented -- much of it indirectly, surmises and suggestions by the narrator, who only gets much of his information filtered through other sources. Indeed, Death in Veracruz is a novel full of ambiguity, the narrator almost never quite certain which version of events he learns of is the correct one.
       Aguilar Camín perhaps has some of his characters drink themselves silly and have wild nights out rather too often, but otherwise, with its mix of shady dealings and conspiracies, brutal violence, and insight into the politics (and journalism) of 1970s Mexico (including the strong role of union politics) Death in Veracruz a consistently intriguing novels. Aguilar Camín admirably also doesn't do the obvious in many places in the novel -- including with the fascinating and well-drawn character of Pizarro.

- M.A.Orthofer, 24 October 2015

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Death in Veracruz: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Mexican author Héctor Aguilar Camín was born in 1946.

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