Americana. Pedro Medina León. New York: Sudaquia Editores, 2019. 238 pages.
El Comanche is back! Americana (Sudaquia Editores, 2019) is the latest novel from Pedro Medina León, and is the next installment in the adventures of El Comanche, the hard-boiled private investigator living in the gritty reality that exists beneath the postcard sheen of modern-day Miami. Medina León introduced readers to the tough-talking, no-nonsense detective in the 2017 novel, Varsovia, but readers unfamiliar with El Comanche will have no trouble becoming enthralled with the brooding, complicated man behind the badge. Americana is a treat both for newcomers who are just meeting El Comanche for the first time, as well as readers of Varsovia who are treated with references to the previous case sprinkled throughout the new novel.
Americana is a tropical noir novel in which Medina León skillfully crafts a Miami that digs beneath the crystalline luxury apartments of Collins Avenue and the sun-bronzed facade of the millions of tourists who pass through Miami every year. This is not the Miami of Americana. El Comanche’s Miami is gritty, humid, almost suffocating. Americana finds our protagonist down on his luck, working a telemarketing job just trying to make ends meet. Of course, for El Comanche, a simple telemarketing job can never be just that. Healthy America is the name of the telemarketing firm that employs El Comanche. Healthy America sells a number of “natural supplements,” including the brand new male sexual enhancement supplement, Erecticum. El Comanche spends his days struggling to sell the product, all the while receiving complaint after complaint about its lack of effectiveness. After receiving a number of payments that fall well below what he felt he’d earned, El Comanche approaches his mysterious boss, José Juan De Lamadrid, about the discrepancy. After being dismissed by De Lamadrid with the only explanation that if he wants to make more money, he should sell more product, El Comanche decides that something doesn’t add up and it’s up to him to get to the bottom of it.
Though the main plot of Americana is El Comanche’s attempts to bring down the shadiness behind Healthy America, it is not the only storyline presented in the novel. Sprinkled throughout are asides labeled with the title “Miami November, 1958.” These sections tell the story of a group of young Cuban revolutionaries who are plotting a coup against Fulgencio Batista. Though the connection between the Miami of 1958 and El Comanche’s present-day Miami is not obvious at first, the reader will quickly become obsessed with solving the puzzle that Medina León skillfully weaves through his novel.
Stylistically, Americana is beautifully and uniquely of its own variety. Combining aspects of tropical noir, the detective novel, and historical fiction, Americana constructs a vivid picture of Miami past and present that goes beneath the mirage built by postcards. Medina León skillfully writes fast-paced, rapid dialogue using an authentically miamense blend of Spanish and English, depending on which character is speaking. The characters constructed throughout Americana are enticing, complicated, and challenging. Medina León also brilliantly captures the atmosphere of modern-day Miami. As the plot thickens in El Comanche’s investigation, the reader learns that Miami is under the threat of an impending hurricane. By way of sporadic half-page “Breaking News” segments, presented as television programming notes, readers can feel the urgency of the alerts build at the same rate that the suspense is building in the main storyline. Medina León also includes segments from the fictional magazine Revólver, a publication of Miami Beach, clandestinely run and authored by undocumented people in Miami. Revólver is a preferred read of El Comanche, and brilliantly, thanks to Medina León, the reader gets to enjoy the publication alongside the protagonist.
Americana is yet another example of a novel of the surging #NewLatinoBoom literary movement, characterized by author and researcher, Naida Saavedra, as the explosion of literary production in Spanish, written and published within the United States in the first two decades of the 21st century. Medina León takes many of the tenets of this new literary movement to heart with engaging plotlines, nontraditional stylistic choices, and a blending of form and genre which is at the heart of the #NewLatinoBoom. Americana is the type of novel the reader will not want to put down, as Medina León transports his audience through time and space to the Miami of the past and present. El Comanche guides us through his riveting adventure with a blend of dark humor and intrigue that is unique to the tropical noir. El Comanche is back, so strap in… there’s a storm brewing.
Worcester State University
Zachary D’Orsi is a student in the Spanish master’s program at Worcester State University. He earned his BA in Hispanic Studies and Education at Wheaton College (Massachusetts). Zachary lives in Massachusetts and teaches Spanish at a middle school.