. . . but they have no interest in real combat, when the great masters struggle against that something, that something that terrifies us all, that something that cows us and spurs us on, amid blood and mortal wounds and stench.

10 April 2010

The Professor's Crater

Haas’s lawyer is not a happy woman:

If it had been up to her, everyone around her, the shadowy figures on the edges of the photograph, would have disappeared instantly, and so would the room, the prison, jailers and jailed, the hundred-year-old walls of the Santa Teresa penitentiary, and all that was left would be a crater, and in the crater there would be only silence and the vague presence of the lawyer and Haas, chained in the depths. Page 591.

A couple of pages later, we revisit the crater in interesting fashion in the dreams of the comically pretentious and ineffective Professor Kessler:

On his way back to the hotel, in one of the city council’s official cars, Kessler thought how nice and hospitable these people really were, just as he had believed Mexicans to be. That night, tired, he dreamed of a crater and a man pacing around it. That man is probably me, he said to himself in the dream, but it didn’t strike him as important and the image was lost.

Page 594.

Of course as nearly as we can tell, nothing that really is important strikes Professor Kessler as being important. During his “investigation” this is the guy whose mind wanders to the question of how they got the scrap metal up into the hills of Cerro Estrella while he is having a shot of bacanora. Page 599.

Juan de Dios Martínez

I wrote earlier about my fondness for Lalo Cura. The second half of The Part About the Crimes also presents a sympathetic picture of the humanity of Juan de Dios Martínez.

He concludes that the death of the twenty-eight-year-old schoolteacher, Perla Beatriz Ochoterena, by hanging was a suicide at page 517. He discusses this with Elvira Campos at page 518 and 519, telling Elvira some of the titles in Perla’s collection of books. Elvira ultimately launches into this strange monologue:

What was it the teacher couldn’t stand anymore? asked Elvira Campos. Life in Santa Teresa? The deaths in Santa Teresa? The underage girls who died without anyone doing anything to stop it? Would that be enough to drive a young woman to suicide? Would a college student have killed herself for that? Would a peasant girl who’d had to work hard to become a teacher have killed herself for that? One in a thousand? One in one hundred thousand? One in a million? One in one hundred million Mexicans?

I say “strange” because I have no idea what Elvira’s own answers to those questions are. Is she mocking Juan de Dios’s conclusion that the young woman committed suicide? I do not know what our answers ought to be to her questions either. One thing is for sure. She is not as fond of Mexicans and Mexico as I am.

At page 534 he is clearly and profoundly troubled by the murder of thirteen-year-old Herminia Noriega. She had four heart attacks during her torture, and the final heart attack was listed as the cause of her death.

One’s heart goes out to him for being so deeply in love with Elvira Campos, a distant woman to say the least. At that same page he confides in her about “what was happening to him.” Instead of providing anything constructive to him, this psychiatrist instead regales him with her fantasy about running off to Paris for plastic surgery and a “new life without Mexicans or Mexico or Mexican patients.” Solipsism for sure there.

Later at page 600 Juan de Dios can only rest his head on the steering wheel and try to cry after the investigation of the shooting of Angélica Ochoa by her husband, who started by shooting her in the thighs and then worked up. (Perhaps the fact is that he is upset with himself for falling in love with that narcissist.)

Lalo Cura is an appealing character to me because he alone shows some passing interest in vigorously investigating the crimes. Juan de Dios Martínez is appealing to me because he has a heart.