Mexico Street, by Simone Buchholz – book review

Beton Rouge, according to our records, was ‘tremendous fun’. Very few people are having fun on Mexico Street. Most people, in fact, are furious for most of the time. 

Cover of Mexico Street by Simone BuchholzRami is furious and Kadir is furious and Abdullah is furious and Aliza is known by all for her fury and Mohamed is furious and Riley is furious and Buchholz is too and so is Rachel Ward the translator. Only Nouri is not. He is dead. In life he was hardly ever furious, except once, at the end, and it killed him. 

All that anger. And rather a lot of cars: big revving numbers that impress young men. Cars with names like Mercedes and Porsche and BMW and Jaguar. And anonymous cars, belonging to anonymous nobodies, set alight in cities all over the world, on all continents.

At times it looks as though Mexico Street is going to describe a culture war. Sisters, daughters, bought and sold, family honour, strict control, a love of violence as a way of expressing raw power. The rights are for the collective and that means the patriarch. None of this is portrayed in a positive way. But nor is the self-declared individualism which is its supposed flip side: hedonist, drug-addled, misogynist, preying on the vulnerable, a love of money as a way of expressing raw power, on a hamster wheel of consumption and excess. And those cars, everywhere. This is no culture war, it’s far too fundamental.

There’s a lot of control and discipline within these societies; we see only the froth when things boil over. But amid all the control there is a mess. And in this book the mess is within the law enforcement function. The mess is our own Charity Riley, who smokes more than she should and drinks as much as ever and can’t choose between men and never gets to sleep. We enjoy her company, as ever, furious though she may be. And we feel her indignation, for she makes her moral position known early on:

If we have to tell a mother that her son is dead, but we just can’t ring that mother’s doorbell as we’re clearly a problem for her just because we are who are, and because she is who she is, if we’re enemies, then first of all I need to know why, and where it all started. Don’t I? Or do I?

Yes, she does, and we do too.

There’s a basic humanity to the narration of this story (did I mention there’s some fury in there too?) which makes us feel, deep down, that it’s going to be OK. But OK is precisely what it is not. The casual violence is never described casually. It isn’t something that Charity Riley will allow us to forget. She doesn’t want us to be prissy; she’d just like us to have the chance to muddle things through for ourselves. Throw in Buchhold’s Schwarz Deutsch approach to noir with Romeo and Juliet star-crossed lovers and you’ve a tale that will remain with you long after the final page.

Read our Secret Library feature with Simone Buchholz

And with that, we bring the Mexico Street blog tour to a close. Thanks to Anne Cater for the invitation and Orenda Books for the review copy.

Mexico Street BT Poster.png

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