Liminal Criminality in Post-Conflict Central American Crime Fiction

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In his article, “Historia Negra, Novela Negra,” Nicaraguan author, critic, and recipient of the 2017 Miguel de Cervantes Prize, Sergio Ramírez reflects on the critical and political potential of the crime fiction genre in Latin America, and specifically, in Central America. He comments that, unlike any other literary tradition, detective fiction has become a mirror that reflects transnational corruption (np). Considering crime fiction as a mirror or mimetic vehicle, as Ramírez suggests, allows us to examine how societies are represented through literature and specific genres, to interrogate relations and paradigms of power, and to analyze the power of language itself. The crime fiction or novela negra genre critiques power dynamics through the dissolution and transgression of spatial, temporal, and psychological borders. Taking Ramírez’s quote as my point of departure, I argue that crime fiction is the vehicle to critically engage liminal criminality, which I define as the individual or institutional acts of violence that transgress judicial boundaries and procedures, in post-conflict Central American literature. My corpus consists of five transnational Central American novels – Horacio Castellanos Moya’s El arma en el hombre (2001), Héctor Tobar’s The Tattooed Soldier (1998), Marcos McPeek Villatoro’s Minos (2003), Daniel Quirós’ Verano rojo (2012), and Jacinta Escudos’ El asesino melancólico (2015). In this dissertation, I analyze the novels’ protagonists’ liminal criminality, which refers to the ways in which they manipulate their positionality as criminals, crime fighters, and victims within current economic and political systems to reflect on and contest post-conflict paradigms of power. I examine individuals who are neither wholly victim nor criminal, but rather are individuals whose prior victimization manifests in displays of acts of violence and criminality in their search for justice. The liminally criminal acts include revenge, misuse of investigative tools and extra-judicial investigations, extortion, and suicide, among many others. The protagonists’ liminal criminality has the power to disrupt hegemonic processes and highlights how institutional and political wartime violence is recycled and disarticulates the possibility of achieving justice in truly post-conflict period.