High Crimes: Élmer Mendoza’s “Zurdo” Mendieta Series and the Psychotropic Economy

  • Joseph Patteson University of Wisconsin–Madison
Keywords Élmer Mendoza, drugs, intoxication, detective fiction, consumerism, psychology, violence, culture, addiction, narcissism, Self and Other


As increasing attention is focused on cultural products that engage the subject matter of traffic in illicit drugs and its interdiction, much attention has been focused on the elaboration of a “sober” (Herlinghaus) perspective on violence and its representation, business and politics. However, works like Élmer Mendoza’s Balas de plata, La prueba del ácido, and Nombre de perro point out the psychotropic contours of a modern world in which illicit drugs are but one category among the psychotropic mechanisms that move individuals and societies. In these novels, Detective Edgar “el Zurdo” Mendieta’s investigations unfold in the context of ubiquitous and multivalent intoxication, and this vision allows us to look beneath the surface appearance of the War on Drugs to contemplate its psychotropic motivations and effects.

While the characters’ deployment of psychotropic technologies largely follows a logic of coping or survival, the influence of the global North is alluded to in the persons of gringo characters who figure an attitude Avital Ronell calls “narcossism,” and which is adapted for this study. In narcossism, mind-altering substances and practices are integrated into the self in order to support an inflated ego at the expense of relationships with the Other, a pattern associated with cocaine abuse but also with the psychology of consumerism. Moving outward from the action of the novels, the Zurdo series in also seen to participate in a cultural economy of intoxication that implicates artistic production in a contested field of the ethics and politics of representing violence.

Author Biography

Joseph Patteson, University of Wisconsin–Madison

Joseph Patteson is an ABD doctoral student in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His dissertation centers on intoxication and culture, with narco-violence as its epicenter but placed within a global and historical framework. Its primary objects of investigation are products of culture, but the problem of psychotropy has forced him into close contact with biology, psychology, history, and other disciplines. Other interests include Central American narrative, Brazilian culture and the theory of the novel.

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