Hilario Peña – Chinola Kid


My rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Rodrigo is trigger man for a big-time Tijuana gangster, but he’s going through a career crisis. When he realizes his boss has manipulated him into one last job in a backwater town in his native Sinaloa, Rodrigo’s career crisis blossoms into a full-blown identity crisis. After displaying his prodigious criminal talents while reclaiming his hijacked SUV from the young prince of a local crime family, Rodrigo is ready to ride off into the sunset. But the town makes him an unexpected offer… to become the local sheriff.

That’s the call to action in Hilario Peña’s “narco-western,” Chinola Kid. It’s a wonderfully observed tribute to the traditional western novel, and classic Hollywood westerns such as High Noon.

Devastated by the ongoing turf battle between the families that hold the local heroin and marijuana franchises, Rodrigo sees an opportunity to embrace his inner good-guy, and clean up the town. Deadly earnest, he posts the new rules, starting with a 100 peso fine for spitting in the street, another for using bad language in the presence of women, and so on through an escalating list of offenses. His is a zero tolerance system of enforcement.

As we explore Rodrigo’s successes and challenges as the local law man, Peña gives us a cast of vivid characters, and makes them real through extensive use of colorful dialog.

Enforcing black and white rules in a gray world is not destined to last forever, despite Rodrigo’s refusal to be discouraged by betrayal, or to grasp opportunities for corruption. The climactic showdown becomes inevitable, but Peña uses it as an opportunity to ponder the very nature of power. I came away with the observation that nobody is ever really the boss, because every boss in turn has his own boss.

A well-constructed fun read, filled with memorable characters.


Desde Amazon:

“¡Vaqueros vs. narcos!”

Los habitantes del Tecolote apenas pueden creer el cambio que ha sufrido su pueblo en los últimos meses, el cual pasó de ser la población con más asesinatos por metro cuadrado en el mundo, a convertirse en un verdadero ejemplo de bonanza económica para el país. Uno de los factores que contribuyeron a este nuevo estado de las cosas podría ser la determinación de un comisario elegido democráticamente por sus gobernados para hacer cumplir su ley, que no admite transgresiones de ningún tipo.

Rodrigo Barajas es su nombre y la primera impresión que uno se lleva al mirarlo es la de encontrarse frente a uno de esos alguaciles del Viejo Oeste, de pocas palabras y mucha acción, con su bigote a lo Wyatt Earp, su sombrero Stetson, y esa mirada serena, reflexiva y sabia que pertenece a una especie de hombre en peligro de extinción.

Apreciable lector, en sus manos sostiene un auténtico narcowestern, una “vieja historia del Nuevo Oeste” en deuda con las películas de Kurosawa, Howard Hawks y el libro vaquero; construida sobre valores perdidos como el honor, la valentía y la decencia, ideales para combatir el cinismo de los días que corren.

Jesús Malverde Chapel – Culiacán

Mexicans will sometimes adopt folk heroes, and raise them to near-saint status. They are not saints recognized by the church, but some people pray to them as if they were. Jesús Malverde is a well-known example from the Sinaloa area. I first became aware of him, and his Culiacán shrine, from Arturo Perez Reverte’s novel La Reina del Sur, which was virtually an homage to Sinaloan writer Elmer Mendoza.

Sinaloa is the historic center of the Mexican drug trade, and Malverde has become especially popular among traffickers and traders in the area. The walls of the chapel are covered with prayers for future transactions, and thanks for the success of previous endeavors.

I visited the Malverde chapel on my recent visit to Culiacán, and here are some of the photos I took. I’m also including a picture of a Malverde statue that I took through a store window in Los Angeles. Appropriately, he is holding a big bag of marijuana, and a fist full of dollars.





Here’s what Wikipedia says:

Jesús Malverde, sometimes known as the “generous bandit”, “angel of the poor”,[1] or the “narco-saint”, is a folklore hero in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. He is celebrated as a folk saint by some in Mexico and the United States, particularly among those involved in drug trafficking.[2] He is not recognized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.

The existence of Malverde a.k.a. ‘El Rey de Sinaloa’ is not historically verified,[3] but according to local legends he was a bandit killed by the authorities on May 3, 1909. Accounts of his life vary – sometimes he was a railway worker, while others claim he was a construction worker. There is also no agreement on the way he died, being hanged or shot.

Since Malverde’s supposed death, he has earned a Robin Hood-type image, making him popular among Sinaloa’s poor highland residents. The outlaw image has caused him to be adopted as the “patron saint” of the region’s illegal drug trade, and the press have thus dubbed him “the narco-saint.”[4] However, his intercession is also sought by those with troubles of various kinds, and a number of supposed miracles have been locally attributed to him, including personal healings and blessings.

A series of three Spanish-language films have been released under the titles Jesus Malverde, Jesus Malverde II: La Mafia de Sinaloa, and Jesus Malverde III: Infierno en Los Angeles. They all feature tales of contemporary Mexican drug trafficking into California, with strong musical interludes during which the gangsters are shown at home being serenaded by Sinaloan accordion-led Norteño bands singing narcocorridos.

Spiritual supplies featuring the visage of Jesús Malverde are available in the United States as well as in Mexico. They include candles, anointing oils, incense, sachet powders, bath crystals, soap and lithographed prints suitable for framing.

“Always & Forever” is a dramatic stageplay that features Malverde as a prominent character. The play examines various aspects of Mexican-American culture, such as quinceañeras, banda music, and premiered in April 2007 at the Watts Village Theater Company in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. A revival production opened in May 2009 at Casa 0101 Theatre in another Los Angeles neighborhood, Boyle Heights.

A brewery in Guadalajara introduced a new beer, named Malverde, into the Northern Mexico market in late 2007.[5]
A Malverde bust is featured in AMC’s Breaking Bad television series, in the episode entitled “Negro Y Azul”.
A popular Mexican hip-hop artist performs under the pseudonym Jesús Malverde.
Several important scenes of the telenovela La Reina del Sur take place at his chapel in Culiacán and Malverde’s name is mentioned many times during the show.

Hilario Peña – La mujer de los hermanos Reyna


My rating: 4 1/2 stars

As I read Hilario Peña’s delightful novel, I felt as if I were solving one of those big, beautiful jig saw puzzles I used to solve with father on summer vacations. Covering a 40-year time span, it’s gradually revealed to be the saga of a loosely-knit family’s move from a dying town in Sinaloa to a position of power in the thriving city of Tijuana.

A story that shows what can be accomplished with ambition, brains and a faulty moral compass, the themes are constant reinvention, constant betrayal, and the importance of family – even wildly dysfunctional family. There’s lots of action. The book features a murder mystery, a gang war, police and political corruption, drug trafficking, the use of religion and sex as tools for personal and financial gain, and an allegorical escape of wild animals from the zoo.

There’s a huge cast of vividly-written characters, but the story revolves around three principal players. Roberto Reyna is a scheming womanizer with a surprising weakness. He has a distant, but strong tie to his half-brother, Nicolás, a seeming innocent who nevertheless has no problem capitalizing on the outrageous situations that present themselves. Most interesting of all is the mysterious Lorena “La Morena.” While she struggles for control over her own life, there’s no doubt that she has control over everyone she comes into contact with. Every time I thought we were finished with a character, he would come back to fill in another piece of the puzzle.

There were a large number of pieces in this puzzle, but I trusted the author to pull them all together, which he did, providing a truly satisfying and engaging reading experience.


The author’s description of his book, and the thought process that went into its creation:

La mujer de los hermanos Reyna narra las vivencias de un grupo de estafadores de poca monta entre los que se encuentran un comisario holgazán, su medio hermano y una despampanante mujer fatal apodada la Morena, quienes, con sus actos, llevarán a la ruina a un pueblo sinaloense llamado Estación Naranjo, antes de huir hacia la ciudad de Tijuana, donde cada uno se reinventará a sí mismo, superando su condición de desheredados por medio de complejas estafas, la única manera de subsistir en el mundo en el que viven, donde nada se les dio gratis.

Con esta obra me propuse crear un nuevo género al que llamo Melodrama Policiaco, el cual se encuentra influenciado en partes iguales tanto por la novela negra norteamericana como por algunos culebrones del canal de las estrellas; estos melodramas épicos que en ocasiones llegan a abordar la vida de todo un pueblo y que regularmente terminan con la villana quemada, rapada, desfigurada y metida en un manicomio.

Se me ocurrió la idea de un don Juan sinaloense, con hijos regados por todo el estado. Me pregunté, ¿cómo sería la relación entre estos medios hermanos, separados no solo por kilómetros de distancia entre sí, sino también por rencores, celos y envidias? Enseguida coloqué a una mujer de carácter fuerte y actos sumamente sensuales en medio de ellos, agregué un poco de melodrama a la mezcla, lo metí todo dentro de una trama de género policiaco, y de pronto ya tenía el concepto bien cuajado. Ahora solo hacía falta escribirlo.

El tema de don Juan me llevó a otro que es común denominador de todas mis historias: el tema rulfiano de la búsqueda del padre (de manera descarada el inicio de esta novela parafrasea el inicio de Pedro Páramo). Al menos es lo que persiguen los protagonistas de mis últimos tres libros, una figura paterna que les enseñe a convertirse en hombres para dejar de cometer los errores y tropiezos que terminarán provocando en unos casos la risa y en otros la lástima de parte de los lectores.

A cada personaje lo mueve una motivación diferente, como es el caso de la Morena, quien es guiada por su irreprimible deseo de libertad que más tarde se transforma en ambición de poder. Al comisario Nicolás Reyna lo mueve su deseo por reencontrarse con su padre, mientras que todo lo que Roberto Reyna desea, a pesar de su inicial pose de macho mexicano, es retornar al útero materno, a aquel origen apacible e idílico que terminó abruptamente con el suicidio de su madre. Al secuaz de este trío, el maquiavélico Rigoberto Zamudio, lo mueve su vampírica obsesión por poseer a la Morena, a quien ve como la fuente de la eterna juventud.

Existe una nostalgia que impregna todo el libro, con personajes que miran siempre hacia su pasado con añoranza. Evelina Zamudio y la nostalgia por las tradiciones de su pueblo, la mayoría de ellas abolidas por los caprichos de un pastor evangélico; el subprocurador César Mayorga y su nostalgia por un sistema político tan autoritario como funcional. Margarita Lizárraga, la figura materna sobre la que se abalanza Roberto Reyna para dejar atrás su vida de pendencias. También están otros personajes, como Raquel Torres, esta empleada de una joyería a punto de ser asaltada, quien padece del complejo de Electra hasta que conoce a Leonardo Zamudio, alias el DiCaprio, uno de los asaltantes a los que se habrá de enfrentar en el clímax de la historia.

El humor es otro ingrediente importante en La mujer de los hermanos Reyna, sin embargo procuré que éste funcionara como parte del hilo conductor más que como fin en sí mismo. Una herramienta de la cual me valgo para que el lector siga conmigo y escuche el mensaje que lanza una vida como la de Lorena Guzmán. Un mensaje difícil de desentrañar, incluso para el autor, pero que definitivamente se encuentra ahí, hablándonos en todo momento.

Mi novela predilecta de cuantas he publicado. La considero la mejor.La recomiendo ampliamente.

Alagua – Mazatlán – Aguachile de Camarón

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This is a wonderful ceviche dish that I just discovered recently. Alagua is one of the best seafood restaurants in Mazatlán, and they do a spectacular version of the famous Sinaloa dish.

The freshest of shrimp are shelled raw, “cooked” in lime juice and served with chopped cucmbers, onion and a jalapeño purée.There couldn’t be a more perfect dish to eat right at the beach with the warm breeze on your face.

Looking For Seafood in Mexico




I took a long taxi ride to the beach in Tijuana to try a restaurant that Anthony Bourdain featured on his show. Guess what? Terraza Vallarta isn’t there any more. $22 in cab rides later, at least I had a nice conversation with the cab driver… It was one of the less expensive little white cabs, so I probably made his night.

On Saturday night in Hermosillo, I took another long cab ride – not as long this time – to a Sinaloa style seafood restaurant called El Charco. Before the taxi could leave, a lovely young woman raced out to tell me that they closed at 7:00 pm. I’ve come across this with other seafood places in Mexico.I ended up at La Cobacha, a huge place with an extensive menu. I had a mixture of shrimp, scallops and avocado in a sweetish red sauce called Manjar de Neptuno… Finally got my seafood fix.

Los Cuates de Sinaloa – La Reina del Sur

The Spanish novelist Arturo Perez Reverte wrote the great Mexican novel La Reina del Sur. Hugely influenced by the novels of Sinaloan writer Elmer Mendoza, it tells the story of a how a young woman from Sinaloa came to dominate the drug trade in southern Europe, but is then drawn back to her native country for sentimental reasons. The book was a huge sensation, and was turned into a popular television series in Mexico.

Los Cuates de Sinaloa made their name by singing Corridos, or story songs. Many of their songs fall into the category of Narcocorridos, because they tell the stories of famous drug traffickers. In fact I first became aware of them from the narcocorrido they sang in the opening sequence of an episode of Breaking Bad… It seems fitting that they would sing the story of La Reina del Sur.