Book review: Day In, Day Out by Héctor Aguilar Camín

Day In, Day Out by Hctor Aguilar Camn
Day In, Day Out by Hctor Aguilar Camn

Distinguished Mexican author, journalist, and historian Héctor Aguilar Camín explores a dissolute writer’s lifelong obsession with a nefarious temptress in this hardboiled tale of lust, police corruption and murder in Mexico City.

Day In, Day Out, originally published in 2016 as Toda La Vida, is Aguilar Camín’s second work of fiction to be translated into English. Journalist Chandler Thompson, who translated the work from Spanish, is also responsible for the English language translation of Camín’s acclaimed novel Death in Veracruz.

Narrated by a professional writer named Serrano, a man who does not digress, mince words or cleave to his biases, Day In, Day Out recounts his passionate, sporadic affair with Liliana Montoyo, a beautiful, promiscuous woman who makes a habit of reducing men to their primal state, turning them into violent and primitive lovers.

Serrano, who has a ‘sexual and literary weakness for her,’ remembers fondly his ‘incestuous dalliances’ with her in 1972 ‘on the kitchen sink in her house’ which incurs the wrath of Rubén, her elder brother and Serrano’s university friend. Rubén ‘administers a beating so ferocious that it puts the writer in the hospital.’ Rubén, oblivious to his own unnatural feelings for his sister, considers Serrano ‘the first stepping stone to Liliana’s downward path.’

Four years later, with Liliana enrolled in a programme at the university which her brother and Serrano attend, she begins an affair with the corrupt, predatory university professor Roberto Gómez Vertíz, better known as el Pato, a doctor of criminology who is twenty years her senior. Stories of their sordid affair ‘circulate like old coins burnished by the touch of many hands.’

When el Pato’s wife tries to kill herself by drinking a whole bottle of black ink, he vows to break up with Liliana. Instead, he leaves his suicidal wife the following week and ‘until their affair comes to an end, Liliana is boss.’

As for Serrano, he moves in and out of Liliana’s life, never able to have her entirely to himself or to banish her from his thoughts. Telling himself that she is not ‘the sort of wife a writer ought to have,’ and repelled by her repeated admission that she ordered the killing of her sister’s abusive Honduran boyfriend, el Catracho, in order to ‘avenge the stain on the family's honour,’ Serrano distances himself from her, succeeding in his writing career but failing in his marriage.

At the funeral of an old acquaintance years later, the middle-aged Serrano is reminded of Liliana when he bumps into the aged el Pato. The meeting stirs in him a desperate desire to see Liliana once more, as well as a need to discover the truth about the death of el Catracho.

His deep, revealing investigations into the ‘despicable’ el Catracho and the true role that el Pato and Liliana played in his grim death rekindles the interest of powerful, corrupt men, and shines a glaring light on an ugly period in the nation’s history when ‘law enforcement went rogue.’

Day In, Day Out is a noteworthy crime noir full of deception, ulterior motives, unreliable memories and secrets and lies. It is also a compelling love story.

The unabashed and obsessively driven Serrano is both a victim and a menace, hopelessly drawn to a woman as unstable as himself. Empty but right-minded when apart, they are both unable to control their natural impulses or curb their self-destructive behaviour when together. Theirs is a perpetually dangerous, doomed relationship, full of passion and liberation, heartache and trouble.

The eloquent and philosophical Héctor Aguilar Camín, recipient of numerous national literary awards, has produced once again a masterful literary work that clearly shows us why he is one of Mexico’s most revered writers.

(Schaffner Press, paperback, £11.95)