By Lydia Gil
DENVER – A new anthology billed as the first-ever collection of short mystery and crime fiction by Latino authors showcases the work of writers regarded as pioneers in that genre.
“Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery,” published by University of Houston-based Arte Publico Press, gathers 17 stories by Hispanic authors, including masters of the genre such as Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Manuel Ramos and Mario Acevedo, as well as works by up-and-coming writers.
Ralph Rodriguez, author of an academic study on the crime genre in Chicano literature titled “Brown Gumshoes,” wrote in the prologue that the stories of “Hit List” do not contain Latino caricatures or stereotypes.
Although they clearly belong to the category of escapist literature, that does not mean that these works of short fiction – most of which are noteworthy for their meticulous structure, complex characters and concise and unpredictable plots – are of lesser artistic merit or poorly constructed.
The anthology also should not be construed as strictly published with a Latino audience in mind.
The protagonist of Hinojosa-Smith’s “Nice Climate, Miami,” for example, could be construed as a sort of stereotype – but of an Irish police officer rather than a Latino.
That short story, which according to Hinojosa-Smith is part of a novel in progress, features the sharp, rapid and street-wise dialogue that allows readers to experience the action as if they were watching it unfold on the big screen.
In short, Hinojosa-Smith’s story is an outstanding and undeniably universal example of the mystery and crime fiction genre.
The idea for the collection came from its co-editors, Sarah Cortez and Liz Martinez, two authors who have been aficionados of the mystery and crime fiction genre since their youth.
Cortez, for her part, not only has brought to the anthology her refreshing use of language and keen editing sense, but also her experience as a police officer.
Meanwhile, one of the best known contributors to the collection is Garcia-Aguilera, an award-winning Cuban-American writer who not only is the author of eight novels and dozens of detective stories but also works professionally as a private investigator.
If we recall that women are well represented among the most successful crime and mystery fiction writers, such as Anna Katharine Green, Agatha Christie and Patricia Cornwell, it is unsurprising that “Hit List” features female authors of the stature of Garcia-Aguilera, Lucha Corpi and Gaspar de Alba, as well as others less well-known such as Bertha Jacobson, LM Quinn and S. Ramos O’Briant.
One of the most well constructed stories in the collection is “The Skull of Pancho Villa” by Manuel Ramos, a master of Chicano crime fiction.
Filled with humor and inventiveness, it tells the “true” story of the theft in 1926 of the Mexican Revolutionary general’s head.
The story was inspired by the many stories that abound about the robbery of the skull; this account, which tells of how it falls into the hands of the narrator’s family before being stolen yet again, is just as improbable as the others but undoubtedly much more humorous.
“Hit List,” a collection that is ideal for reading on the metro or at the beach or cafe, delivers some of the best stories in that genre to have been published in English in recent years. EFE