A Novel Detective

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Review of 'An Easy Thing', Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Friction £7.99

An Easy Thing is the first book to be published by Friction, a new publishing enterprise launched by Respect MP George Galloway and his colleague Ron McKay. The aim of Friction is to bring to British audiences works of fiction and non-fiction from around the world which will appeal to radical and left wing audiences. At a packed launch in a restaurant on Brick Lane, George said that he hoped the Friction imprint will publish 'books that burn, books that cause controversy and get people talking'.

Their first book sets a high standard. An Easy Thing is a detective thriller written by Paco Ignacio Taibo II, a Mexican writer. Taibo is a literary legend across Latin America but his audience in Britain has been limited to crime novel aficionados - until now. The book, first published in 1977, is the first in a series featuring private eye Hector Belascoaran. He is an independent minded and principled man, who is very different from most private eye characters. Hector has believable and intriguing relationships with friends and family. He is a real character with complex motivations, not just an action hero.

Hector is persuaded to take on three very different and highly political cases - the kidnap of a sexy soap star's daughter, a murder at a factory where the workers are on strike, and a quest to find if there is any truth to rumours that Emiliano Zapata, hero of the Mexican Revolution, is still alive and well. His attempts to solve these cases reveal a society scarred by political corruption, greed and violence.

But this is not a cynical novel. Hector is helped by a friend, El Cuervo, who runs a night time radio show. The show is based on solidarity. If someone has a problem, El Cuervo appeals for help across the airwaves. He plays music for the sad and despairing, for badly paid factory workers and lonely hearts. The station is, he says, 'a link between brothers in the depths of the darkness'.

The descriptions of a teeming Mexico City are beautiful in places, moving in others, giving the novel a quality unusual in detective thrillers. It's a pacy, engaging and highly political novel, full of the everyday tragedy of ordinary lives as well as the thrills of the chase. Anyone who is interested in crime fiction, or just a very good read which reveals something of the fascinating country of Mexico, will welcome this book with open arms, although some in authority have proved not to be so keen.

The book launch was to be held in the Jubilee Room in the Houses of Parliament. But the event was cancelled at short notice by Commons authorities because it was a commercial venture. But such restrictions are not applied to MPs from mainstream parties. As George Galloway told the press conference, 'If I was to take you now to the dining rooms in the bowels of the House of Commons you would find virtually every one of them booked by a member of parliament sponsored by a commercial company.' An Easy Thing will be followed by The Battle for Bethnal Green, an account of George Galloway's historic election victory written by George and Ron McKay, a book which is certain to 'burn, cause controversy and get people talking'.