Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mystery Book Review: Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery by Sarah Cortez and Liz Martinez, editors

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery by Sarah Cortez and Liz Martinez, editors. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery by Sarah Cortez and Liz Martinez, editors

by Sarah Cortez and Liz Martinez, editors
An Anthology of Crime Fiction

Arte Publico Press (Trade Paperback)
ISBN-10: 1-55885-543-2 (1558855432)
ISBN-13: 978-1-55885-543-4 (9781558855434)
Publication Date: March 2009
List Price: $19.95

Review: Edited by Sarah Cortez and Liz Martinez, Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery is a collection of 17 short stories from some well-known names in the field of crime fiction and a few newcomers.

It is often hard to generalize about short story collections because they include such diverse styles of writing, characterization, and, somewhat ironically in this case, what even constitutes a "mystery". Generally, a mystery involves a crime, a perpetrator, an investigator, and a solution. Here, only a handful of the stories fit even this broad definition. It's interesting that Carlos Hernandez addresses this very same issue in his story, Los Simpaticos: "Latinos don't like mysteries. The Brits, they're a mystery-crazy people. Americans too, if to a lesser degree. But us? All that confusion and ambiguity at the beginning, all those subtle clues to make you feel stupid when you see the solution at the end, all those red herrings purposefully put there to trip you up. No, what the New World mind likes is intrigue. Just lay it all out: this person wants this, that person wants that and here's everyone's sordid past, and here are all the evil things everyone is planning to do. Now sit back and watch it all play out. And judge them. ... [J]ust let us know everything up front, so that, for once in our lives, we can make a full and fair judgment about something. To hell with mystery. Real life is all too full of them." And that is what this collection is, for the most part, all about. These are stories of intrigue, not necessarily stories of mystery (though some most certainly are).

Another common element in many of the stories is one of injustice, or maybe disadvantage. It's often expressed in one way or another through a character or situation, but at times it seems as if the authors are projecting their own experiences here, using their stories (or portions thereof) as a metaphor for their lives. In Manuel Ramos' story The Skull of Pancho Villa, for example, he writes that Emil Homdahl, a soldier of fortune is "credited" with stealing the titular item but never convicted of the theft. A few sentences later, he writes, "There was another guy arrested with Homdahl, a Chicano from Los Angeles by the name of Alberto Corral. ... Corral's role in the tale is given short shrift, something we Chicanos understand all too well." That last comment is little more than editorializing by Ramos as it has little to do with the plot.

Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery is an eclectic collection of stories, some very good, others not so much. It might have been a better mystery anthology had the stories had a more cohesive theme or something more in common than simply written by Latino authors.

Special thanks to Arte Público Press for providing a copy of Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery for this review.

Review Copyright © 2009 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved

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Synopsis (from the publisher): This groundbreaking anthology of short fiction by Latino mystery writers, Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery, features an intriguing and unpredictable cast of sleuths, murderers and crime victims. Reflecting the authors’—and society’s—preoccupation with identity, self, and territory, the stories run the gamut of the mystery genre, from traditional to noir, from the private investigator to the police procedural, and even a “chick lit” mystery.

Hit List collects for the first time short fiction by many of the Latino authors who have been pioneers in the mystery genre, using it to showcase their unique cultures, neighborhoods and realities. Contributors include award-winning writers such as Carolina García-Aguilera, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Rolando Hinojosa, Manuel Ramos and Sergio Troncoso, as well as emerging writers who deserve more recognition.

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