Why do I write detective novels?*

This article, by the famous Cuban writer, was originally published in Portuguese in Falho de Sao Paulo and is reproduced in Spanish and English thanks to an agreement with IPS Cuba.

When a journalist asks me how the future of Cuba will be and how much it will change in the next years or, in the most recent version of the same issue, how will Cuba be without Fidel, I regret the disastrous state of a journalism (or is it just some journalists?) that take writers for fortune-tellers and tries to resolve its mission in a most ordinary way. What’s curious is that questions of that type are repeated with alarming frequency in many interviews I’ve been giving a year, for several years, and although the Cuban reality has many times demonstrated its high degrees of predictability and unpredictability (all at the same time) and I my incapacity to discern the future, the persistence of the interrogation demonstrates that for those journalists what matters most is what a writer speculates than what that author writes.

That’s why I get to feel happy and realised when a journalist asks me why I write detective novels. It’s something so simple and so specific, but it is so fundamentally evident – eight novels – and singular, which only I know and can explain why I write in one way or the other, about an issue and not about another.


The detective novel, or crime novel, for decades has been a genre or a type of literature considered popular and minor. Culture of the masses. However, in recent decades even the most long-established and elitist academy has had to accept its pertinence and even recognise its artistic quality. And not precisely because the academies are understanding and open, but rather because the detective novel has won a literary and social space for itself in the sphere of the culture (and not just of masses) of postmodernity.


Works of high aesthetic worth and of acute reflection about a reality, created by authors of names adorned with prestige, prizes, literary and social sensitivity have contributed to the concretion of that process. Umberto Eco and Leonardo Sciacia, in Italy; Rubem Fonseca, in Brazil; Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, in Spain; Henning Mankell, in Sweden; Benjamin Black, in England form part of an increasingly longer and powerful list of writers who have won all or part of their recognition writing detective (or almost detective) novels and have given the genre literary quality, capacity of social penetration and, with this, artistic and cultural respectability.


For the majority of those authors they have been driven to write detective novels based on two conditions: the high capacity of this new model to express the most diverse and dark conflicts of a society, and its aesthetic generosity as a form of expression open to all the possible literary experiences and depths.


The result has been that, together with a detective novel that continues attached to easy resources of the creation of an attractive mystery, a solid and increasingly prestigious literary body is being created, which actively participates, and on occasions decisively, in the creation of an image close to the societies in which we live. The recurrence of such complex and polysemous issues like corruption, fear, violence, drug trafficking and the trafficking in persons, organised crime, the degradation of politics (and of the politicians) and the game of influences, prostitution and procurement, the trading in weapons, the State crime and marginalisation, among other realities with growing weight in the contemporary world, have made it possible for the detective novel to not only participate in the social game, reach literary quality but also and above all to become one of the most agile and effective resources to reflect the decadence of a world or, at least, its most decisive diseases.


That’s why, when placed in a position of oracle and they ask me how Cuba will be in the future I always answer that I don’t know. I barely presume it will be something different from what it is today, due to a simple question of belief in dialectics, development, evolution. On the other hand, when pushed to speak about my preference for the detective novel, I display all those arguments noted before and I add one: because I like to tell stories that have a beginning and an end, in which things happen that are capable of interesting the reader, and in which, in the face of so much lack of justice and truth in contemporary societies, there be a bit of sense of justice, something that is always comforting.


That’s why I write detective novels…and surely because of this, you, the reader, also reads detective novels, even during those party days with which we close a dramatic year and we take a peek at the other that can be terrible…. Although I don’t know how or how much! (2017)


*This article was originally published in Portuguese in Falho de Sao Paulo.

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