Thursday, April 19, 2012


I've mentioned before that I really liked Down by the River, while I've found subsequent work from Charles Bowden close to insufferable. I've always wondered how much of that was due to me initially knowing very little about Mexico but subsequently learning a fair amount more, and how much of it is due to shifts in the author's writing. I am writing something on Amado Carrillo so I went back and thumbed through parts of Down by the River, and I found the prose rather enjoyable, far more so than in Murder City, which suggests that is is Bowden who has changed, although I suspect the world-weariness and willful cynicism quickly gathers weight.

In any event, Bowden's superficial grasp of verifiable facts in Mexico are as evident as in any of his subsequent writing. For instance, he appears to think Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo is named Félix Gallardo, which is not an insignificant mistake. (Checking all of the index entries, I could find no reference when "Miguel Ángel" was used throughout the book, even when other figures were referred to using their full name. Also, "Gallardo, Félix" was the index entry.) He also refers to Félix Gallardo's "palatial" prison suite, which is at odds with rather detailed reporting from Diego Osorno. Of course, Osorno's reporting came a decade after the publication of Down by the River, so Bowden can be forgiven for not being aware of it, but unless there was a dramatic decline in Félix Gallardo's living conditions in the ten years since, the depiction was unsubstantiated, and included because it advanced the thesis of the book--i.e., Mexico is a chaotic wasteland run by gangsters. This was not the only questionable assertion I came across in my 30 minutes of perusing.