New Internationalist

The Uncomfortable Dead

Issue 398

This rumbustious political thriller is exciting interest as much for its authorship as its content. The Uncomfortable Dead is co-written by Paco Ignacio Taibo – Mexico’s foremost crime novelist – and Subcomandante Marcos – the mysterious, masked Zapatista spokesperson. Rather than collaborate on a single narrative thread, the authors alternate, with Marcos taking the odd numbered chapters and Taibo the even ones; truly, it is ‘a novel by four hands’.

This unusual methodology would make the book a mere curiosity if it were a run-of-the-mill murder mystery but, luckily for us, it is much more.

In the opening chapters we meet a contrasting pair of investigators; the world-weary Héctor Belascoarán Shayne, hero of many a novel by Taibo, and Elías Contreras, a Zapatista detective tasked by his commander ‘El Sup’ (Subcomandante Marcos himself) with finding missing persons in the Zapatista-controlled regions. The appearance of one of the authors as a character is typical of this fiendishly intricate book. For instance, a central plotline concerns paperwork, supposedly found among the effects of the late Spanish writer Manuel Vazques Montalban. These papers – which detail a far-Right conspiracy involving a sinister individual called Morales – inevitably lead to Elías and Hector joining forces in Mexico City to solve a mystery which stretches into every corner of government activity.

I can say no more without spoiling the ending (or endings!) but I can thoroughly recommend this strange and radical novel which manages to be at once deeply serious and wildly comic, profoundly political and mockingly cynical. As the book’s subtitle says, ‘what’s missing is missing’. Read it and find out what that might be!

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