The Shadow of the Shadow

By: Paco Ignacio Taibo II
Translator: William I. Neuman
Sex, murder and gun-toting poets in post-Revolutionary Mexico City. Dominoes are played by all.


Sex, murder and gun-toting poets in post-Revolutionary Mexico City.  Dominoes are played by all.

The Shadow of the Shadow follows four men who meet to play dominoes in a hotel bar in Mexico City in 1922. They are a motley group—a gun-toting poet who makes a living writing advertisements for patent medicine, a radical Chinese-Mexican union organizer, a lawyer who represents prostitutes, and a newspaper crime reporter who churns out pages of copy "like links of sausage in a chorizo factory."

Left to their own devices, the group would have waited out Carranza's presidency in their own quietly besotted fashion, ignoring the betrayal of the Mexican Revolution. But they witness a series of strangely related murders and begin to suspect a conspiracy involving the oil-rich lands of the Gulf Coast, greedy army officers, and American industrialists.

Critics have hailed The Shadow of the Shadow as the best of Paco Ignacio Taibo II's historical novels. Issues of oil, American imperialism, extortion, and government corruption give the novel a distinctly contemporary ring.

5 reviews for The Shadow of the Shadow

  1. Publisher’s Weekly
    “This glorious novel reads as if James M. Cain and Dashiell Hammett had collaborated with Gabriel Garcia Marquez on a version of The Three Musketeers set in 1920s, postrevolutionary Mexico City. Taibo’s (An Easy Thing) four memorable protagonists champion the rights of the common man against corrupt military and police officials, Chinese tongs, a secret anarchist cadre and assorted criminals in this romp through turbulent and romantic times. Caught unwittingly in an intrigue spawned between Mexican army officials and U.S. oil barons, these four not-so-young friends—a war veteran/poet, a disreputable lawyer, a Chinese Mexican union organizer and a crusading crime reporter—walk through a landscape of dead bodies and mysterious women to prove that the power of the press and true commitment to ideals can beat all odds. Insights into each character and delightful surprises on nearly every page of this literate historical thriller support one of the characters’ contention that crime writing is ‘where you find the real literature of life.'”

  2. Library Journal
    “Mexico’s foremost crime novelist masterfully evokes a bygone era. His quirky characters are as endearing as they are well-drawn.”

  3. ForeWord Magazine
    “Once you’ve gotten a handle on the ins and out of the Revolution, follow up with The Shadow of the Shadow by Paco Ignacio Taibo II. The book is a fictionalized account of trade unions’ growing pains and big oil’s sleazy trigger-pulling within Obregon’s government. Taibo is Mexico’s premier crime novelist, with history and politics always participating in the murder and mayhem. The Shadow of the Shadow is no exception.

    Four friends—a poet, a reporter, a lawyer, and a union organizer—gather under a yellowish circle of light in the Majestic Hotel to play dominoes each night. But after a trombonist is shot in the head and his brother falls from a window and the same woman is present (more or less) at both events, the friends turn to sleuthing. Taibo’s nimble and colorful prose and his picture of early twentieth-century Mexico City is beyond compare.”

  4. Kirkus Reviews
    “A high-spirited historical fantasy…Every new revelation seems to give Taibo’s madly spinning top another lash.”

  5. Columbus Dispatch
    Compelling characters found in old Mexico

    The four heroes of the Paco Ignacio Taibo II novel The Shadow of the Shadow are the poet (Fermin Valencia), the journalist (Pioquinto Manterola), the lawyer (Alberto Verdugo) and the Chinaman (Tomas Wong). The historical novel, released in 1991 and recently reissued, is set in 1922 in Mexico City. The revolution has ended, although civil war lurks on the horizon in an apparently endless cycle of violence.

    The quartet meets each night in the bar of the Majestic Hotel in central Mexico City to philosophize, ruminate, drink and play dominoes. Lest the reader of this compelling mystery take the foursome for an effete brandy klatch, Taibo is quick to dispel the notion: Three officers enter the Majestic and begin to hurl insults at Tomas, calling him a “slant eye” and a “chink.”

    “The Chinaman looked the officers over one by one,” says the narrator, deadpan. “His disdain could easily be mis-interpreted as fear by the drunken men. It would be a big mistake.”

    Taibo delights in such understatement.
    Tomas is a union organizer with ham fists and a short fuse. The poet, lawyer and journalist also overflow with tes-tosterone. An army officer is murdered while playing trombone in a band on an outdoor stage. Another officer, the man’s brother, is either thrown out of or falls to his death from a fourth-floor window. The reporter writes a story. The shadow deepens. A car drives by, its occupants opening fire on the quartet. Our heroes return fire. The bad guys are cut down.
    The price on their heads was 300 pesos. But now, according to an informant and would-be hit man, the price of murder has doubled.

    “You just put 600 pesos on the table there and I’ll personally take care of the man who hired Gallego and Felipe (to kill you),” he explains. “I’d enjoy it, too, because the man in question never even bothered to tell those poor boys that you fellows knew how to shoot. They went off to hunt rabbits and ended up with a bunch of Apaches.”

    The Shadow of the Shadow is ostensibly about imperialism (foreign oil interests might be behind all the murders) and nationalism (with a small “n”) and the struggle to establish labor unions in an anarchic country. But Taibo never beats the reader with the message. His characters talk and drink and sometimes fight; then they talk some more. They escape attempts on their lives, all the while moving closer to the Shadow, a nebulous presence that threatens them all.

    The heroes are warmblooded creatures, living and breathing in a palpable world, expertly described by their creator. The poet “lived a life filled with invisible pages all covered with his invisible thoughts which he tried in vain to re-capture, late into the night or mornings round about dawn, with a real piece of paper on the desk in front of him, disconsolately empty.”

    The journalist is about to turn 39, when “crime reporters like this one tend to go transcendental, to look back over their life as if it were a drawerful of old debts, goals unmet, moribund illusions, wasted loves.”

    These are easy characters to root for — beaten down but not defeated, bewildered but unafraid, smart but brutal. Taibo has it both ways: He paints modest studies of humans as well as a mural of Mexican politics, history and the labor movement. That puts him well ahead of his journalist, who complains of being “always too caught up in the details, the little stories, not with the big ideas.”

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