The Transmigration of Bodies
A plague has brought death to the city. Two feuding crime families with blood on their hands need our hard-boiled hero, The Redeemer, to broker peace. Both his instincts and the vacant streets warn him to stay indoors, but The Redeemer ventures out into the city’s underbelly to arrange for the exchange of the bodies they hold hostage.
Yuri Herrera’s novel is a response to the violence of contemporary Mexico. With echoes of Romeo and Juliet, Roberto Bolaño and Raymond Chandler, The Transmigration of Bodies is a noirish tragedy and a tribute to those bodies – loved, sanctified, lusted after, and defiled – that violent crime has touched.
An atmosphere of grim, world-weary numbness seeps from the pages of Herarra’s second novel, all too common for his chosen genre, hardboiled crime fiction. What different is the post apocalyptic terror lacing his descriptions of empty streets, shuttered and boarded shops, city dwellers scurrying to and from varying destinations and the violence – in these places, there’s always violence. Both a commentary on the current Mexican drug wars and a nightmare vision of our possible ecological fate, The Transmigration, like all good dystopian fiction, works particularly well when it reminds us that his future might actually be our present. In this unnamed city, a plague of mosquitos have unleashed a terrible disease on human inhabitants; almost no one goes outside. When a pair of feuding gangster clans, the Castro’s and Foncesca’s carry out tit-for-tat murders of young family hostages, The Redeemer, an ex-court house fixer, is hired to clean up the bloody results. With him comes nurse with an attitude Vicky, alongside heavyweight bruisers, The Neeyanderthal and The Mennonite. Between them, the four try to negotiate a trade of cold bodies back to their respective crime families without spilling any more unnecessary blood.
Hererra’s style is pared down and fast paced, which makes for an excellent read full of pitch perfect observations and grimy, inner city truths. He’s adept at imagery that forces the reader to focus on minute details sparkling with life. The squalor and scuffed characters are vividly detailed, but never boring or one-dimensional. Quotable lines abound, including this gem; ‘The scene had the innocence of all unsettling things that take place in silence.’ Lisa Dillman’s translation works very well, and should be highly commended – nothing jars, or disturbs. There’s an unshakable feeling that Hererra’s gearing up for something truly genre-bending without sacrificing attention to language, and that’s quite exciting to watch.
This is a rich, enjoyable novel full of sumptuous prose that truly deserves more than one reading.