IN THE WINTER OF 2009 I took a job as a "fixer" — this is a nice way to say errand girl — for an American writer on assignment in Mexico City. The writer didn't speak Spanish or know his way around the capital, and I was supposed to be his translator, secretary, and research assistant all rolled into one. The most important part of the job, though, was to scout interview subjects. Ideally these would be kingpins on the DEA's Most Wanted list; failing that, insiders with something brilliant to say on the Mexican drug war. I had no idea who these wizards might be, or how to find them. But I started asking around, and this was how I first heard the name of Sergio González Rodríguez.
Reporters, even the most established, can be crazily guarded. Here was a guy who'd already published four books, including an influential one on border violence, received both literary prizes and death threats for his work, and who wrote a column for the national daily Reforma. Why would he want to share this turf with a couple of outsiders? But González Rodríguez agreed to meet us and (winkingly, I thought) chose the patio of the Four Seasons hotel, with its menu of fancy cocktails and uniformed wait staff, as the place. You couldn't miss the contrast between the setting and the subject matter when González Rodríguez called over the waiter for another round of drinks and then, smiling, pulled out a black-and-white picture to pass around the table. It was going to be the cover of his forthcoming book, El hombre sin cabeza (The Headless Man). It showed a man's bloody severed head being served on a white plate.
González Rodríguez got his start as an arts writer, but his best-known book, Huesos en el Desierto (Bones in the Desert), is a reported account of the murders of women in Ciudad Juárez in the 1990s and early 2000s, and is considered a seminal investigation into the national tragedy. Roberto Bolaño reportedly consulted González Rodríguez when he was writing 2666, his famous novel staged in a fictionalized version of the city, and even admired him enough to give him a cameo. And, notably, both men employ the same antiseptic style to catalogue deaths. The result reads like a police blotter and jars more than any stylistic flourish could.
Here is González Rodríguez in Huesos en el Desierto:
22/06/02, unidentified, resident of Fraccionamiento Paso de los Virreyes, shot in the head. 09/06/02, Carmen Ivón Ontivero Rodríguez, 13 years old, half-buried, hit in the head with a hammer and apparently raped, backyard of a building a few blocks from her house, police arrested two suspects, José González, approximately 16 years old, and Mario Martínez Martínez, 20. Lucila Dávalos Silva, 30 years old, waitress at Bar Ritz, 1.6...