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Jorge Ibargüengoitia: Dos crímenes (Two Crimes)

Carmen Medina, known as Chamuca (it means devil and is used in Mexico for someone who is always naughty) and Marcos González have been together for five years and they are having a party to celebrate, inviting just a few friends, though, as we are told in the very first sentence, it was also a night on which the police violated the Constitution. Five of the six friends turn up as expected but the sixth only turns up quite late and then accompanied by a man that none of the others know, called Pancho. Pancho is not endearing. He does not eat but drinks steadily, helping himself without asking, The group are generally left-wing and he spends his time denigrating the left and socialism. At around one a.m. the door bell rings and when Marcos opens the door, he sees Evodio Alcocer. Evodio is an activist like them but not one they are particularly fond of. He asks if he can spend the night and they assume that he has had a row with his wife, so they reluctantly agree. At this point, the other guests leave. Next morning, when they are getting ready to go to work – both work in the Planning Department, where they met – Evodio is still asleep, so they leave a note for him and go to work. While at work, Marcos receives a phone call from the janitor. It seems the police arrived and asked to be let into their flat, where they found Evodio and arrested him. They are now searching for Marcos and Chamuca.

The pair decide that it would be best to disappear for a while. They have very little money so both decide to go off and stay, separately, with a relative in a remote town. Marcos heads off to his uncle Ramón but when he arrives, he finds his cousin Amalia there and she will not let him in. Fortunately, he bumps into an old friend, José Lara, known as Pepe, the local pharmacist, who puts him up and tells him that his uncle has had health problems and, as a result and, in particular because he is very rich, various relatives have been coming round and trying to keep others away. According to Pepe, Ramón’s main problem is that he is bored. Pepe gets him into the house when Amalia leaves and he puts a proposition to his uncle. He had needed a reason for coming to see him so he invents a creolite mine which, with an investment of a million pesos will easily produce an income of 4-5 million pesos. It is too small for the big companies so there is an opportunity for a small outfit to profit. Though Marcos has training in mining, he has long since abandoned the profession. Uncle Ramón, however, is happy to invest, to Amalia’s disgust.

It gradually becomes clear that Marcos’ idea is essentially to get some money out of his uncle so that he and Chamuca can go off and hide for a year or two. He has a particular, abandoned mine in mind and makes sure that his cousins know about it. He buys some creolite from a geology shop, which he gives to his uncle as evidence of the existence of creolite in the mine. His uncle has clearly taken to him and, when the uncle changes his will, the cousins fear the worst and make him an offer to buy out whatever inheritance he is to get. While Marcos is shown as likeable, he is clearly amoral, for not only is he trying to cheat his uncle, he is having sex with both his (married) cousin and her daughter. At the same time, he is phoning Chamuca and telling her that he loves her and will soon get the money so that they can run away.

As the plot starts to get more complicated, the focus suddenly switches. Up to this point, the story had been narrated by Marcos. The rest of the book is narrated by Pepe who is not only a pharmacist but considers himself an amateur detective. In a conventional detective story, of course, the detective would find out who committed the crime (there seem to be two, as the title tells us) and reveal all. However, not only is this a Mexican detective story it is an Ibargüengoitia detective story. This means that we are not so much concerned with who committed the crime, but how the various participants can get away with it, most likely by suborning the police. Ibargüengoitia has great fun with this, showing, to no-one’s surprise, that the Mexican police are less than honest and, indeed, that while honour may be important in Mexico, dishonesty and self-interest prevail. I cannot say that everyone lives happily ever after but certainly some people live somewhat happier ever after than they might have done had they been in a more conventional detective story. It is very witty, cleverly told and beautifully subverts the traditional detective story.

Publishing history

First published by Joaquín Mortiz in 1979
First published in English in 1984 by David Godine/Chatto & Windus
Translated by Asa Zatz