Hilario Peña – Juan Tres Dieciséis


My rating: 4 1/2 stars

Hilario Peña’s Tijuana is a place where danger lurks around every corner, corruption is rampant, relationships are complex and often secret, loyalty is a rare commodity, and love conquers all.

Tomás Peralta is older and wiser than the tough kid who was chased out of Sinaloa a few years ago in Peña’s earlier novel Malasuerte en Tijuana. He has established himself as a private detective, and he needs all of his experience, instinct and luck to handle the cases he takes on in Juan Tres Dieciséis.

Juan Tres Dieciséis is a rising boxing superstar who has the good, or perhaps bad, fortune to be named after the bible verse John 3:16. His wife was recently murdered, and he is the prime suspect. It looks like an open-and-shut case for the police, but he hires Tomás to find the real murderer. There are many distractions along the way, though, that take Tomás from the highest to the lowest levels of Tijuana society. There are murderers, conniving women, revolutionaries, corrupt government officials and doctors with questionable ethics. Lorena Guzmán, the eponymous Mujer de los Hermanos Reyna, Peña’s terrific earlier novel, makes a memorable appearance. She has done well for herself, and is still unrelentingly sexy, and profoundly corrupt.

Peña never gives me what I expect, and that’s why I always enjoy his books. What started out to be a routine genre novel detoured into a skillfully written memoir of an up-and-coming young boxer, with some of the most riveting action sequences I’ve ever read. The author clearly loves the sport. From there, the book returns to the detective story, but it’s far from routine. The plot complexities and character development are laid on layer by layer, and build to a truly unexpected climax.

Juan Tres Dieciséis is a gripping noir novel, liberally laced with laugh-out-loud humor and that cynicism tempered with hope and optimism that is so unique to the Mexican sensibility.

I had a great time reading it.

Bernardo Fernández, Bef – Cuello Blanco


My rating: 4 1/2 stars

Andrea Mijangos is back. Sadder and wiser, but still intensely loyal to family and friends, she’s intent on revenge, but this time she has the financial resources to do something about it. In her cross-hairs is Lizzy Zubiaga, the beautiful cartel leader who revolutionized the Mexican drug trade in Bernardo Fernández Bef’s lively previous novel, Hielo Negro. Cuello Blanco is a fun mix of genres, intertwining a gumshoe private detective investigating a very ordinary crime that may or may not have taken place, with busting a massive international money-laundering scheme with the dubious help of the American FBI and DEA.

The characters are outrageous, but at the same time well-realized. Former cop Andrea isn’t afraid to rough up a team of French flics, but also unwittingly stirs up the most basic instincts in the men she meets. “If you lived in the 1950s, you’d be a movie star” … “No, I’d be a wrestler, helping Santo fight mummies and vampires.” And Lizzy Zubiaga, while yet again revolutionizing Mexican organized crime, is into cosplay, extreme performance art and vicious murder, and has a truly frightening attitude to relations with the opposite sex.

The action is almost non-stop. There are murders – by gun, by knife, by explosion… even by sexual over-stimulation. There is a complex financial fraud, a Balkan arms deal, shocking performance art, a gang war and an explosive climax. You know, all the things you’d expect from a Bernardo Fernández, Bef novel.

A fun read!


Óscar Salgado, dueño de la casa de bolsa Blue Chip, es secuestrado y amenazado para obtener la información financiera de Lizzy Zubiaga, la reina de las drogas sintéticas. Ella decide entrar de lleno al negocio del lavado de dinero junto con Salgado y su socio, Alberto Suárez. Su plan: crear un banco internacional para criminales de alto nivel. La única persona que puede detenerla es la ex policía Andrea Mijangos, con su nueva agencia de detectives. Mientras tanto, al otro lado de la ciudad, un misántropo dibujante de cómics aparece muerto en un cuarto cerrado por dentro, sin aparente violencia ni móvil. Son los primeros casos de Mijangos como investigadora privada, quien sigue obsesionada por ver a Lizzy tras las rejas. Ayudada por el Járcor, su ex compañero de la policía judicial, y con la ambigua amistad de Henry Dávalos, agente de la DEA, Andrea se verá cara a cara con traficantes de armas rusos, bandas de asaltabancos armenios y traficantes de tabaco albaneses en la segunda entrega de esta trepidante serie. Con el estilo único de Bef (Premio Grijalbo de Novela 2011 por Hielo negro), que combina lo mejor del género negro con elementos de la cultura pop, Cuello blanco es una novela explosiva que estallará ante los ojos del lector.