The horror of it all Crimeziners. Awakening on blood-sullied sheets with a semi-decapitated stranger on the pillow beside you. A razor sharp hunting knife in your
hand and the echoing question—What happened last night?
Deep in the winter, after the summer of Love and the bright bloom of Flower Power has faded to black. The week before, an unknown assassin guns down Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee. Protagonist Tod meanwhile, is having a bad day. Super bad. Mexico, South of the border. Stoned in Barra de Navidad in the cowboy state of Jalisco. Blood drenched knife in hand, like a bad day at Altamont raceway. Worse, Tod’s wife Linda is missing and the junkie parole violators they hooked up with to party hearty are long gone too. Welcome to Mañana.
William Hjortsberg wrote Falling Angel  the book in which a Mike Hammer like private eye makes a deal with the devil. A book which The Alan Parker movie Angel Heart featuring Mickey Rourke and Robert De Niro was base on . He also wrote the wild fantasy film Legend the Ridley Scott directed fantasy vehicle for Tom Cruise and Tim Curry. Mañana is Hjortsberg’s latest book.
Hjortsberg’s last novel the awesome Nevermore (1994) featured the wild tale of Harry Houdini teaming up with Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle to solve a series of murders, which eerily re-enact the stories of Edgar Allen Poe. The book was a work of conceptual genius. So what has the great man been doing for the last twenty years?
Living in Montana mainly, but also reinventing the literary wheel it would seem. There are no supernatural elements to Mañana as one might perhaps expect. Instead, Hjortsberg delivers a back to basics slice of noir nastiness that is straight out of the Jim Thompson playbook. It is hard to like the protagonist Tod or any of his drug-addled cohorts. But the quality of Hjortsberg’s writing reigns supreme; along with a pervasive love of Mexico that conjures a mood of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises [Fiesta].
The parallels with Hemingway are clear. Hjortsberg has already written a homage to bullfighting [Torro, Torro, Toro (1974)] and now, many years later, we see echoes of Hemingway’s Lost Generation. As Hjortsberg replaces the decadent, dissolute, and damaged youth of World War I with the drug-addled outcasts of the Vietnam years.
Hjortsberg’s generation of slackers is far more malevolent than the lost innocence of Hemmingway’s time however. Drugs and nastiness of every kind are featured heavily. It is nothing we have not seen [very many times] before however, provided by writers such as Burroughs, Kesey and Hunter S. Thompson. In fact, if one did not know Hjortsberg’s long experience, one could be forgiven for thinking that this was the work of a far younger writer, someone who still imagined that life as a drug-addled drop-out was exciting and glamorous.
Unfortunately for the writer, the all-pervasive nature of drug culture has lost much of its mysterious cachet to today’s youth, and readers who are old enough to have been there-seen that-done that, will be unimpressed. If one switches out drug references for the phrase—And then we spent a night in front of the television, you might be close to recreating the ennui of the ceaseless stonerism, here in contained.
There is mystery here too though, and suspense, tinged with the horrible understanding that things are going to turn out very badly indeed for our young hero Tod. Will he ever find his missing wife, or his wasted friends? Will his dissolute outlaw life in Mexico fill the yawning emptiness that chasms within, or destroy him utterly? The twists are ugly and brutal, reminiscent of Getaway/Grifters era Jim Thompson. If you love that kind of writing you are going to love Mañana. If not, you are going to need a hot, bleach-filled bath, and a course of Naltrexone in the hope that some day soon you might be clean again. Don’t count on it Crimeziners. After you have read this book, you will feel the dirtiness crawling through your flesh for a very long time to come.
That is the Hjortsberg magic.
Here’s hoping he doesn’t leave it another twenty years before his next book.