2666: The Part About the Crimes

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.

4 comments to 2666: The Part About the Crimes

  • You might know this already, Nicole, but the Kessler character is a thinly-veiled fictionalization of an ex-FBI profiler who actually spent some time in Ciudad Juárez and the Sergio González Rodríguez “character” is a real life journalist and friend of Bolaño’s who wrote a fine nonfiction book on “the crimes” called Huesos en el desierto [Bones on the Desert]. Despite agreeing with whatever blogger/reviewer called The Part About the Crimes the spine or backbone of 2666 in something I saw last year, I think one of the true horrors of this section–and the impotence of anybody to provide a solution or an explanation, as you touch on here–is the way it pits these tragedies against a whole other set of human tragedies elsewhere in the concluding section of the novel (I’m being intentionally vague so as not to ruin any surprises for you). Look forward to your upcoming posts on Bolaño as you might have guessed from my Trekkie-like enthusiasm here. Interesting post!

  • nicole

    I suspected as much of the ex-FBI profiler, though I didn’t research it, but I did not guess that about Sergio Gonzalez as well. Your comment has me newly eager to get to The Part About Archimboldi… At this point I am in a state of total suspense as to what it contains, and I still have no idea what Bolaño “really” has in store for me in this novel.

  • There is a really good take on what Richard discusses here in the new volume of Bolano interviews. I so wish I had read that book BEFORE 2666.

  • This is what struck me most about ‘The Part About Crimes’ of 2666.
    Initially the victims are mentioned with their names with a bit of background, as the pages go, they are mainly referred to as bodies (mostly like newspaper reports) and the reader’s level of involvement with them reduces as we tend to with news bytes we notice in passing. I assume that this is Bolano’s way of saying that we get inured to just about anything and everything that happens around us over a period of time. We just get numb to it. This also could be that we are descending more and more into hell, where all feelings pass and we just become spectators without any feelings.