Sunday, February 12, 2012

Rolling Rivera, by Steven Torres

"Rolling Rivera," by Steven Torres, in The Precinct Puerto Rico Files.  2012.

I am not the first to notice that detective fiction tends to flourish only in democracies.  In fact, I think you could make a case that the popularity of different genres of crime stories gives you a sort of national temperature.  When World War I and Prohibition made us cynical about the powers that be, we stopped reading classical mysteries (in which the bad guy was brought to governmental justice) and turned to hard-boiled (in which the law is corrupt and the good guy is on his own).  Nowadays we seem to have thrillers (confirmation for the paranoids among us) and noir (nourishment for nihilists).

I was pondering this as I read The Precinct Puerto Rico Files, an e-book that Steven Torres was kind enough to send me.  His hero usually solves the crime, but he can't solve the underlying economic social problems that caused the mess, and will cause more.  So justice becomes a little, shall we say, ad lib.

I should explain that the hero, Luis Gonzalo, is the sheriff of Angustias (the anguishes) a small mountain town in Puerto Rico.  The time is the 1970s.

A good example of my thesis is "Rolling Rivera."  Abraham Rivera, an abusive husband and father, lives in a wheelchair because of an earlier drunken folly.  He is found dead, run over on a road.  The legal question is: was it another booze-soaked accident, or did someone set him up to be killed?  And the bigger question is: if the latter, should we prosecute or celebrate?

Another very good story in this book is "The Driver," in which a small mistake builds up, with the inevitability of Greek tragedy, into a pointless disaster.  One more thing I really liked about the book was the brief note Torres placed after each story explaining where he got the idea.

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