A Death In Mexico cover, novel by Jonathan Woods.“Solved any good cases lately?”

So asks a local whore of Hector Di­az, police inspector in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. And while that seemingly throwaway question dangles between Di­az and the whore in a San Miguel bar one night, it actually forms the basis of A Death In Mexico (New Pulp Press), the debut novel of acclaimed short story author Jonathan Woods.

This is a police procedural, no doubt about it, but also let there be no doubt that the procedures of Mexican police are a far cry from those we’ve grown accustomed to in this country. “Good cases” are in short supply and San Miguel’s economy is fueled by money from the thousands of American expatriates living there. So when the mutilated corpse of Amanda Smallwood, gringa model for local artists, turns up one cool night, the cops feel immediate pressure to find the killer. Problem is, nobody is willing to put forth the effort to do it.

It falls squarely into Di­az’s lap, since he’s the only one with any initiative. And even he is easily distracted by a stiff drink or a bedtime frolic with one of the numerous names in his little black book. Corporal Felicia Goya is eager to help, but she’s an inexperienced intern, and Di­az knows she’s not likely to add much substance to the investigation.

No, Di­az is on his own, and as he plods through the cobblestoned streets of the small city (deliberately kept that way to preserve “authenticity” for the delight of foreigners), he runs into one dead end after another. Wild-eyed Indians, ancient Aztec gods, and lethal drug cartels all dart in and out of the story, making Di­az’s job an unenviable one.

For those who have read Woods’ breakout short story collection, Bad Juju & Other Tales Of Madness And Mayhem (2010), and were captivated by his sharp prose and snappy storytelling, I have two words: forget it. This is a deliberately-paced, thoughtful tale that bears no resemblance to that earlier book. Woods draws you to this story like a blazing fireplace in the next room on a cold night. It took me about sixty pages before I realized I had to set aside the Bad Juju expectations and take A Death In Mexico on its own terms.

I did, and was well-rewarded. Grab a bottle of Cuervo and a shot glass and curl up with some good Mexico noir.

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