A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how The Part About the Crimes was easier to read because of its form, and was surprised to get pushback on that idea. Perhaps I should have said that the form makes it deceptively easy to read; as Steve Brassawe notes, the just-the-facts approach to the crimes “is a Hitchcock technique in the sense of making what we do not see much more horrific than anything that we might have been shown.” That is certainly true of not only the femicides but of all the crimes in the section, including those of the Penitent and the killings of the Caciques.
By the end of The Part About the Crimes, though, one notable thing about its form has more to do with deviation from tradition. The dispassionate descriptions of police procedure do not extend much further than finding the bodies; the forensics don’t lead anywhere or reveal much, the investigators muse for a few moments on the M.O. of the murders, but they don’t do much to really analyze the crimes either individually or as a group. They reflect on the crimes, but impotently. They lament the state of the city, but hopelessly. They don’t take the cold analytical mind of detective fiction to it.*
Lalo Cura is one exception to this trend. Plucked from a small village to work as a teenage bodyguard for a narco’s wife, he becomes a policeman after saving her from assassins. He finds piles of untouched textbooks on investigative technique at the police station, which he takes home to read since no one will miss them. He makes a few noble—but yes, still quite impotent—attempts to analyze motives, noting that a body must have been dumped in a particular location because the murderer wanted it found, for example. Far from being fostered by the police department, his initiative is frowned upon, and Lalo Cura is in no position to solve the crimes.
Albert Kessler seems poised to be another exception, and it’s he who somehow managed to get my hopes up and make me think somehow (even though it would be impossible) something would happen when he came to Santa Teresa. Billed as an American Sherlock Holmes, he could be the one they are all waiting for, someone from the outside who won’t be powerless to find the root of the femicides. And he seems so different, right from his arrival, more purposeful. He sneaks out the backdoor of the police station so he can ride a taxi around the slums of the city, figuring out where all the industrial parks are and where the bus routes go and imagining how some of the crimes may have happened. He asks questions and makes notes. But just as Kessler sparked those hopes, he took to drinking bacanora and it turned out the Mexican police had been following him all the time. His failure to realize he was being tailed by these good-for-nothing cops is one of the more depressing signs of impotence in the whole section. There can be no hope to solve these crimes.
*Of course, this manifests itself as another notable deviation from genre: there is no single main detective. There are several we are very familiar with, like Juan de Dios Martinez, as well as other characters with an investigative function, like Sergio Gonzales. But we don’t stick with anyone, following their steps to solve the mystery of the crimes, for very long and they certainly don’t take us very far.