The third novel of Herrera's loose Mexican underworld trilogy to be translated into English. In the court of the King, a narco boss in an unnamed territory in Mexico, everyone knows their place. But as the Artist wins hearts and egos with his ballads, uncomfortable truths emerge that shake the Kingdom to its core. Part surreal fable and part crime romance, Kingdom Cons questions the price of keeping your integrity in a world ruled by patronage and power.
The resulting novel has the quality of a fable, in which the banished words are barely submerged. Their replacement by symbols, allusions, or close cognates makes the political reality underlying the novels both more distant and more disquieting. To read Herrera is to be immersed, almost involuntarily, in the uncanny ... Herrera’s characters aren’t good guys so much as they are people who are not quite of the world that seeks to harm them. Their detachment protects them and lets them serve as guides ... At one point in Kingdom Cons The Artist boasts, 'If you’re just saying what happened, why bother with a song? Corridos aren’t only true; they’re also beautiful and just.' He may come to realize how his corridos can be used to other ends, but Herrera’s novels stay beautiful and just.
This cunning little drama about the line separating art from agitprop is, like the other books, translated with colloquial verve by Lisa Dillman. The Artist’s mission statement could speak for the whole of Mr. Herrera’s daring and memorable project: 'Let them be scared, let the decent take offense. Put them to shame. Why else be an artist?'
On the surface, Herrera writes about people along the border between Mexico and the United States (inspired, one can guess, by his time spent in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez), but his real subject is a border condition, a state of exile, an existence between two extremes — this side and the other side, narco and gringo, life and death … The book is written as a modern-day fable, self-conscious but restrained, mixing titular names with a studied attention to what Herrera calls the narco-aesthetic — opulent, insular, ultra-violent — drawing connections between ancient stories of royal courts and the kingpin sagas of our time … Kingdom Cons sometimes falters under the strain of the weight of its ambition...But the novel soars in places where legend and fine detail merge into something original and true.