Category Archives: Crime fiction and film from Mexico

M and my top 10 reads for 2019

It is no exaggeration to say I have been eagerly anticipating Samm Deighan’s monograph of Fritz Lang’s 1931 film. I love the film and I am a big fan of Deighan’s movie writing, so the combination is bound not to disappoint. And it didn’t.

As Deighan puts it in her introduction, M ‘exists in a liminal space between urban social drama, crime thriller, and horror film’. It was arguably the first serial killer film, long before the FBI coined the term in the early 1970s. Anchored by a superb performance by Peter Lorre as the paedophiliac child killer, Hans Beckert, it was certainly the first motion picture in which a serial killer was the central protagonist. Another crucial innovation was the way in which Lang depicted the character of Beckert in a not entirely unsympathetic light. This same sensibility would have a influence on some subsequent serial killer cinema, most notably in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror/thriller, Psycho.

Deighan discusses M’s broader social and political themes, including the film as a critique of modernity and a text for Germany on the brink of totalitarian control, appearing as it did a year before the Nazi’s assumed power and Lang had to flee the country.

Another fascinating aspect of the book is the discussion of how the themes in M would echo in Lang’s subsequent work, particular the threat of the lawless mob violence and what is perhaps the director’s most defining idea, how even the most noble individual is capable of brutal murderous thoughts and actions.… Read more

My top 10 crime reads of 2017

Late last year the German culture website, CulturMag, asked me to nominate my top 10 reads for 2017. My list is now live (and in English), along with contributions from a number of other individuals and can be seen in full here.

As usual, it is a mix of old and new fiction, as well as some of the non-fiction books I enjoyed. What were your top crime reads of 2017?

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The Big Nowhere #4: Naked Alibi

Naked Alibi poster 2The Big Nowhere is a series of columns I’ve been doing for the 4:3 site, in which I look at the best film noir you’ve never heard of. Number 4 in the series is Jerry Hopper’s 1954 B-noir, Naked Alibi. A tale of desperate men, a femme fatale, jealously, obsession, set in a seedy small town, just your average film noir cocktail. What makes this otherwise average film worth seeing is the presence of Sterling Hayden as the disgraced cop and Gloria Grahame as the singer, two of the most interesting actors who worked in film noir in the late ’40s and ’50s.

You can read the piece in full here on the 4:3 site.

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Sicario, the myth of American innocence & the war on drugs

SicarioIn the mid-nineties, my brother and I drove all the way down the west coast of Mexico, stopped in Guatemala for a couple of weeks, then drove up Mexico’s eastern coast to Texas and onto Florida. Our time in Mexico was pretty much problem free (with the exception of the time we were pulled over by narcotics police at a check point on a remote stretch of road outside Cancun and my brother dissed one of the cops – but that’s another story). Indeed, the only instance in which we were threatened with genuine violence occurred not in Mexico but when gun was pulled on us in a bar in Miami. I struggled to reconcile my memories of Mexico as I watched Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario.

Sicario (warning, spoilers follow) opens with a group of police, led by Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) busting into a house in the outer suburbs of Phoenix, suspected of having links to one of the Mexican drug cartels. There they make a gruesome discover. Entombed in the plasterboard walls are numerous corpses, wrapped in plastic, the victims of cartel kidnapping and murder. No sooner have forensics arrived to start cataloguing the bodies, then a bomb goes off in the backyard, killing two of the officers.

Kate is called into a meeting with her superiors and a mysterious man called Graver (Josh Brolin) and asked whether she wants to volunteer for a new assignment.… Read more

Miff report back #4: Cartel Land

CartelCartel Land, Matthew Heinemann’s gripping third documentary examines vigilantism, the so-called war on drugs and the break down of state authority on both sides of the US/Mexico border. Unintentionally or otherwise, it is also a powerful depiction of the nature of masculinity in conflict zones.

The story focuses on two men on either side of the border. Tim ‘Nailer’ Foley has been a survivor of child abuse, a drug addict and a hard working family man, in that order, before the 2008 recession capsized his economic hopes and eventually led him to the US side of the Arizona border with Mexico. There he began a one-man effort to prevent the spread of human and drug trafficking onto America soil, which has slowly attracted other followers, largely men, but also a few women, who share his concerns.

Charismatic surgeon Dr. Jose Mireles leads a vigilante movement known as Autodefensa in a fight against a vicious drug cartel known as Knights Templar that has infected every aspect of the poor central Mexican province of Michoacan. What started off as Mireles and a few of his neighbours deciding it is better to risk death fighting than passively accept the slow motion annihilation promised by the cartel, has snow balled into a major movement.… Read more