After a beautiful American artist’s model is found dead in the streets of San Miguel, Mexico, hard-drinking womanizer Detective Hector Diaz searches for her killer in the ritzy ex-pat artists’ community of the tourist getaway town. He’s still reeling from the loss of his daughter to a stray bullet at a New Year’s celebration and the disintegration of his marriage, and finding Amanda Smallwood’s murderer might just lead to his salvation.
After burning through Jonathan Woods’ short story collection Bad Juju & Other Tales of Madness and Mayhem a couple years back, I assumed his first novel would be in a similar vein. Bad Juju was pulp played at eleven, with Woods twisting the old tropes of classic adventure and crime premises into hyper-violent, over-sexed small feasts of excess. A Death In Mexico is not the wild-ass, break-neck slice of bug-fuck I was envisioning, but it is a very strong piece of mystery fiction all the same.
As you can tell from the plot synopsis up top, Wood is not drastically fucking with the recipe, but he’s certainly added a lot of salsa and chili powder to the mix. (Oof, I apologize for that one, dear readers, but I can’t pass up classic cheesy reviewer lines like that.) His San Miguel is a fresh new world I would gladly dip back into, where the cops (outside of Diaz) are either incompetent or corrupt and the rich can do as they please. It’s a place where Christ has failed his believers but the old gods of the Aztecs might be real after all…or else Diaz is just losing his shit.
Woods’ prose is stacked with metaphors both beautiful and hilarious, and brings us into Diaz’s mind with ease, giving us a man whose brain, when it’s not fixated on the case, is thinking about the next glass of mezcal he’d like to chug or curvy woman he’d like to bone down with. But beneath those distractions lies a wounded man with little left to lose. I hope to see him again toot-sweet, and I have my fingers crossed that in the next go-around Woods brings even more of his patented crazy to the proceedings.