Detectives off their patch

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jan 23, 2013

Recently finished reading The Neruda Case, a fine novel by Roberto Ampuero. The author’s Cuban-American-Chilean protagonist, Cayetano Brulé, spends the book learning on the job (and from Maigret novels) how to be a detective. At one point, he muses at some length on how Maigret and other (fictional) detectives who are his primary reference points could ultimately offer him few practical lessons, not because they are fictional but because they are from an entirely different society:

Even if he braved the underworld and greased his relationships with informants, Miagret could never accomplish anything in a region as chaotic, improvised, and unpredictable as Latin America. Just like the gentleman Dupin and Sherlock Holmes, Maigret could investigate his heart out in stable and organized nations like the United States and France, where a rational philosophy reigned over the people, rules and clear laws prevailed, logic shaped daily life, and solid, prestigious institutions and an efficient police force worked to ensure respect for the law. On the other hand, in Latin America—where improvisation, randomness, corruption, and venality were the order of the day—everything was possible.

In a place where a communist nation coexisted with modern capitalist cities, feudally exploitative if not enslaving plantations, and jungles where history had frozen in the times of the cavemen, European detectives weren’t worth a thing. It was that brutally simple. In those Amazonian, Andean, or Caribbean worlds, detective such as Dupin, Holmes, or Poirot would find their dazzling deductive powers failing to clear matters up. The crux of the problem was that the North’s logic simply didn’t apply in Latin America.

I find this interesting for a number of reasons.

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