Black Cat
Black Cat
Black Cat

The Black Minutes

by Martín Solares Translated from Spanish by Aura Estrada Translated from Spanish by J. P. Pluecker

“A breathless, marvelous first novel . . . This is Latin American fiction at its pulpy phantasmagorical finest . . . a literary masterpiece masquerading as a police procedural and nothing else I’ve read this year comes close.” —Junot Díaz

  • Imprint Black Cat
  • Page Count 448
  • Publication Date May 04, 2010
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-7068-2
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $14.00

About The Book

A finalist for France’s most prestigious award for crime fiction, the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, and for the distinguished Spanish-language award, the Rómulo Gallegos Prize, Martín Solares’s The Black Minutes has been published across Europe to great acclaim and rave reviews. Told from multiple perspectives and filled with macabre details and fantastical elements that are interwoven throughout the narrative, The Black Minutes is an electrifying and highly original novel from a brilliant new voice.

When a young journalist named Bernardo Blanco is killed in the fictional Mexican port city of Paracuán, investigation into his murder reveals missing links in a disturbing multiple homicide case from twenty years earlier. As police officer Ramón “el Macetón” Cabrera discovers, Blanco had been writing a book about a 1970s case dealing with the murder of several young schoolgirls in Paracuán by a man known as el Chacal. Cabrera realizes that whoever killed Blanco wanted to keep the truth about el Chacal from being revealed, and he becomes determined to discover that truth. The Black Minutes chronicles both Cabrera’s investigation into Blanco’s murder and detective Vicente Rangel’s investigation of the original el Chacal case. Both narratives expose worlds of corruption, from cops who are content to close the door on a case without true justice to powerful politicians who can pay their way out of their families’ crimes.

The book is full of dark twists and turns, and populated by a cast of captivating—and mostly corrupt—characters. An alcoholic priest serves as the link between the generations, the only one who knows the truth behind all of the murders. Reporters dig as deep as they can, their trust difficult to gauge, and Rangel finds himself in love with one. Bernardo Blanco and, later, Ramón Cabrera are the only ones who break through the corruption and come to know the whole truth, a truth that unfurls by degrees into a complex and surreal mystery.

Tags Literary


“Mr. Solares is a graceful, even poetic, writer, especially in his hard-boiled dialogue and his descriptions of the wildly varied landscapes and ethnic types of northern Mexico. Though the world of The Black Minutes is one to inspire fear and revulsion, Mr. Solares’s descriptions of it are oddly beautiful and fascinating in the same way that overturning a rock and observing the maggots beneath can be a perversely edifying spectacle.” —Larry Rohter, The New York Times

“Solares’s debut deftly treads a risky tightrope between police procedural and surreal fantasy . . . this haunting novel forces readers to confront that bedeviling paradox of human nature, the eternal mystery of wickedness.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“From its first pages, it’s clear that Martín Solares’ debut crime novel is shooting for more than basic genre thrills. The writing is clean, almost edgeless, but the occasional elegant metaphor slips in. Most of the writing, however, steers clear of overt gestures, for a good reason: At 436 pages, this double-tiered mystery has more than enough incident to get through as is . . . The Black Minutes is briskly immersive and satisfyingly tangled, with a resonant sense of the weight of age-old injustices.” —The Onion

“Martín Solares’s first novel, The Black Minutes, an uncommonly nuanced neo-noir . . . may be exactly the right book to read at the end of 2010, a particularly dark year in recent Mexican history. It’s crime fiction, but it’s also a meditation on corruption, and it captures the kind of nightmarish helplessness that many feel in the face of the tide of narco-violence sweeping the north of Mexico . . . Scraping away some of the cool remove of the traditional noir, The Black Minutes gives a gorgeous, suffocating sense of life in Mexico’s sweltering northeast and an equally smother sense of a justice system in which the concept of justice has been leached of meaning . . . The general impact of the plot is stunning. His characters simultaneously move toward resolution and the void, each success paradoxically dragging them down.” —The Nation

“At first, the sheer exuberant inventiveness of this remarkable Mexican debut may mystify some American crime-fiction fans. If those readers give it a chance, however, they may wonder why the authors they usually read are so risk-averse . . . Solares’ prose—alternately playful, poetic, and plainspoken—propels the pages. Some fantastic elements of Latin American fiction, such as dreams and ghosts, are present, but they won’t be dealbreakers for crime fans who don’t like magical realism.” —Booklist

“Martín Solares’s first novel is a dense, warm, and complex noir fiction. But its originality lies elsewhere, in its dreamlike digressions. . . . The confessions of a Jesuit, the brief appearance of a criminology vedette, literary references, all contribute to introducing shifts to the register generating interest and charm.” —Le Temps (France)

“[Martín Solares’s] debut novel is risky business. . . . One of the most ambitious crime novels that Mexico has had to offer since the great works of Paco Ignacio Taibo II.” —Titel Magazin (Germany)

“Mart&iaucte;n Solares’s novel is intense and exhilarating, full of violence and action. . . . This first novel by Solares will satisfy—and believe me, to an immense degree—those who enjoy impossible missions and quixotic adventures. Go, go read this splendid novel.” —El Pais (Spain)

“A dark novel, completely enclosing itself inside the parameters of the genre, in which the author shows us an extremely critical glimpse of the police corruption of his country . . . Solares displays an impressive string of situations, and constructs an action-packed plot that never declines. . . . [He] is a true novelist.” —El Mundo (Spain)

“The exotic world that boils in The Black Minutes is not limited to the rules of the ordinary; the nightmare and the supernatural at times involve the narration and fracture our trust. . . . detective novels that are important are those that are capable of transcending the genre, they survive by their metaphysical implications or for the sharp representation of society that inspires them.” —ABC de las Artes y Las Letras


One of Deadly Pleasures Best Books of the Year


Book One
Your Memory Has a Thousand Gaps

The first time he saw the journalist, he reckoned him to be twenty years old and he was wrong. The journalist, from his perspective, reckoned the plaid-shirted rancher to be around fifty, and he guessed right. They were both traveling south. The journalist was on his way from the United States, after quitting his job; the man in the plaid shirt was coming back from a job in the northern part of the state, but he didn’t say what it was. They knew they were getting into Mexico because the air on the bus was too thick to breathe.

When they crossed the Río Muerto, they saw a two-jeep convoy. As they got to Dos Cruces a pickup full of judiciales passed them, and at Seis Marias they ran into a checkpoint inspection by the Eighth Military Zone. A soldier with a lantern signaled the driver to pull over; the driver took the bus down a dirt road and stopped it in the beam of a huge floodlight, between two walls of sandbags.

On the other side of the highway was a big canvas tent with a set of radar machines, and farther down three dozen soldiers were doing calisthenics. During the search of the bus, the journalist turned on his reading light and tried to read the only book he had with him, The Spiritual Exercises by St. Ignatius of Loyola, but just a minute into it he felt deeply uncomfortable and looked in the direction of the trenches. Just beneath him, behind the sandbags and the thicket of palm trees, two soldiers stared at him, full of resentment. He wouldn’t have cared, if it weren’t for the high-caliber machine guns they had trained on him. The rancher said he’d probably look the same, if he had to spend the night at the mercy of the mosquitoes, in hundred-degree heat, crouched behind a bunch of sandbags.

The inspection was carried out without incident. The sergeant who looked them over did it only out of duty and scrutinized the luggage lazily. Meanwhile, the young journalist took advantage of the wait to drink a yogurt, and he offered another to the rancher. In exchange, the fifty-year-old offered him some pemoles, the cornmeal cookies they eat in the Huasteca. The rancher asked if he was a student, the young man said no, he’d already finished his studies, in fact had even quit his first job, as a reporter for the San Antonio Herald. He was thinking of taking a year off and living down at the port; perhaps later he’d go back to Texas. He showed the rancher a picture of a blonde woman with her hair pulled back. The rancher remarked that she was very beautiful and said he shouldn’t have left such a job. The journalist responded that he had his reasons.

The young man examined his fellow travelers: they looked to him like rough, uncultured types. There was the plaid- shirted rancher, shirttail untucked to hide his gun; a somber smoker, who traveled with a machete wrapped in newspaper; and, toward the back, one who seemed worst of all: a mustachioed giant who was eating oranges without peeling them. The young man was still looking them over when it came time for the second inspection.

Ever since he saw the pickups parked on the broken white line of the highway, he’d had the conviction that they would be rude and arrogant, but he hadn’t guessed the half of it. They were pulled over by an officer with a walrus mustache, who raised his badge and his gun in the same hand. Behind him, the whole squadron was drinking beer, leaning against the trucks. They all wore dark glasses, even though it was not yet morning, and were dressed in black, despite the oppressive heat. For some reason their poise troubled him more than the arrival of the soldiers had. Keeping his devotional readings to himself, he thought merely, The world is so round and has so much room, and in it there are so many and such varied people. Soon enough he’d realize that the only thing pure about these souls was the white initials of the judicial police printed on their shirts.

The chief gave instructions, and a fat fellow climbed into the bus. He was followed by a kid with an AK-47. Neither of them was older than he was; the second didn’t even shave yet. The journalist got the impression that this was the first bus they’d searched in their lifetime. The fat man displayed his badge as if he were going to bless them with it and requested that nobody move: they’d be doing a routine inspection—though it didn’t turn out that way for anyone.

He walked the length of the aisle and looked twice at the other passengers, as if he couldn’t believe he detected so many wanted individuals. He was a fat man of little faith and didn’t even think of hauling them in. Then he brought in a German shepherd that sniffed at them one by one. As soon as the dog was on the bus, the journalist noticed a stirring in the back. Without a doubt the smoker was concealing the machete, the rancher was hiding his gun, and the guy with the mustache was tossing something out the window. All in vain: it was an extremely intelligent dog. It went to the very back of the bus, passed all the other passengers without pausing or doubting once, and stopped in its tracks before the young man who was reading The Spiritual Exercises.

“Get off the bus!” the fat man ordered.

They took him off at gunpoint, they searched him as if he were a member of the Paracuán cartel, they mortified him with raunchy cursing, and when he said he was a member of the press they made him take off his jacket—ah, so you’re a reporter—and searched him for drugs. Then they emptied his suitcase on a table and the fat man began to rummage. The tape recorder and clothing grabbed his attention, but what he liked most were the sunglasses. The journalist said he had an eye condition and needed to wear them on doctor’s orders, but the agent took them anyway. The kid with the AK-47 opined aloud, “Fancy-ass little prick,” and spat in the direction of the journalist’s shoes. The rest of them smiled.

“Here we go,” boasted the potbellied officer, “now we’ve got the truth.”

He waved a marijuana cigarette in his hand. The rancher, from his seat on the bus, shook his head.

“The cigarette is not mine,” the journalist protested. “I saw when he put it there.”

“No way, asshole,” the fat man shot back.

When he figured the abuse was only going to get worse, the rancher said to himself, That’s enough, and got off the bus. He walked straight to the judicial police chief, who was drinking a beer and leaning on his pickup. As soon as he saw him, the chief gave a noticeable start.

“Fuckin’ Macetón, you lose something around here?”

“Screw you, Cruz, he’s just a pup.”

“He’s old enough to vote.”

“He’s traveling with me.”

The chief gave a distrustful grunt and yelled at the journalist, “What’re you going to the port for?”


“What’re you going to the port for?”

“That’s where I’m going to be living.”

“Get out of here.”

They put his things back in the suitcase, except for his jacket and the sunglasses. When he reached for them, the kid with the AK-47 blocked him.

“These stay here. And hurry it up, or the bus’ll leave without you.”

As the bus took off, the young man saw the fat guy trying on the sunglasses and the other had put on the jacket. Plus a thousand pesos were missing from his wallet.

“It’s your lucky day, sir,” the rancher said, “that was Chief Cruz Treviño, of the judicial police.”

The journalist nodded and clenched his jaw.

Just before they reached the river’s edge, two gigantic billboards welcomed them to the city: the first was an ad for Cola Drinks and the second showed the president with arms open wide. Both he and his campaign slogan were riddled with bullet holes. Where it read, A GOOD LIFE FOR YOUR FAMILY, the light shone through the perforations.

As they crossed the bridge, the rancher thought it strange that the journalist stared at the river with such curiosity: there were the same little boats as ever, and, in the distance, the immense cranes moved their dinosaur necks at the cargo port.

Once at the bus station, they made their way to the taxi stand and bought their tickets. As they waited their turn, the rancher observed, “If ever you want to transport weed, put it in a shampoo bottle, wrapped in a piece of plastic. Don’t even think of putting it in a coffee can; that’s where they look first.”

The boy insisted that they’d planted the drug among his things; he didn’t even smoke tobacco. Then he said he owed him and he’d like to thank him. A bit awkwardly, the plaid-shirted man handed him his card: AGENT RAMÓN CABRERA, MUNICIPAL POLICE. The boy looked at him dumbfounded, and the rancher insisted that he get in the next available cab.

After the car had turned the corner, he noticed the portrait of the blonde fluttering on the ground: it must have fallen out when the boy paid. Cabrera picked it up and put it in his wallet, without knowing what for.

He thought he’d never see the boy again, and again he was wrong.