A Festival Of Crime

As part of a series profiling mystery writers, CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Anthony Mason interviews ebullient mystery writer Paco Taibo II as he kicks off his annual weeklong festival for crime writers in Gijon, Spain.

You are aboard a private train making it's way across Spain with a most unusual cargo--crime writers from all over the world.

This merry band is on an eight-hour journey from Madrid north to the coastal city of Gijon, where their arrival will launch a week-long crime writer's festival called Semana Negra, or Black Week. They call this the Black Train.

And its engine, the festival's organizer, is an irrepressible Mexican mystery writer named Paco Ignacio Taibo II:

TAIBO: "There's something mythological about the train...Even some people think that the train is black."

Anthony Mason

MASON: "It's actually blue."

TAIBO: "It's actually blue, yeah. But some people think it's a black train, you know. And children say in Gijon 'The black train is coming!' I like that, that kind of idea that something is coming into everyday life that will change it for 10 days."

But these are writers, and first the train has to stop for lunch:

TAIBO: "It's our train. We can stop the train here and say 'we are going to have lunch there'."

Taibo called ahead to the mayor of a mining town along the way and asked if he could feed the scribes:

TAIBO: "And I said 'Can we have pipers?' Because pipers are the folk music of the region. He said 'Of course we will have pipers'."

That is the way they will be treated for the next ten days, from the moment they step off the train in Gijon and Black Week formally begins:

MASON: "A lot of writers get that kind of reception when they get off a train."

TAIBO: "Yeah, that's the idea. Writers can finally be a hero."

The Crime Writers' Festival.

Semana Negra is more than a writer's festival. It's a fiesta that stretches for miles. Culture, Taibo says, should be a party.

Taibo is a dervish in constant motion, sucking down a smoke and chugging Cokes to keep himself going, stalled only by the occasional fuel crisis:

TAIBO: "I lost my cigarettes, my God!"

Taibo's daughter Marina helps him run the festival.

MASON: "Your father never seems to stop moving."

MARINA: "No, he makes six novels at the same time. Thinking. The whole time he's thinking. Even when he sleeps, he's making a nvel."

Taibo has written nearly 50 books including biographies and histories. In the '70s, he turned to crime:

MASON: "You've written nine books about one character."

TAIBO: "Hector Belascoran Shayne."

MASON: "What kind of name is that?"

TAIBO: "Hector is a common name. Belascoran is a Basque name. And Shayne is an Irish name. I decided that if I have a character with those names set in Mexico City, if you believe he exists it's because the character's very strong."

Books by Paco Taibo

From An Easy Thing: "It was a joke, just one hell of a big joke thinking he could be a detective in Mexico. It was the course of six short months there had been six attempts on his life (with a scar to show for every one.)"

MASON: "He lost an eye."

TAIBO: "Yeah, poor guy. It's not easy to be a private eye in Mexico City and he's not a private eye, he's an independent eye.

MASON: "What's an independent eye?"

TAIBO: "An independent eye is a detective who has no links with anything that means power, structure of power."

(From No Happy Ending): "His only chance for survival was to accept the chaos and quietly become one with it. Take yourself lightly, but take the city seriously. The city, that inscrutable porcupine bristling with quills and soft wrinkles. Hell, he was in love with Mexico City. Another impossible love on his list."

MASON: "He has the distinction of being, I think, the only independent detective in crime fiction who has died three times."

TAIBO: "Well, died twice and almost three times. Yeah, Mexicans believe in resurrection. It's a Mexican tradition. What can I do? I kill him because the novel said you have to kill the character. The novel pushes that kind of end. When I kill him I said, 'Gosh, I lost the character!' My mother arrived, read the book and said: 'Son, you're an asshole. You killed a great character.' I received letters from fans saying 'What are you doing? You're working three years building a character and then you kill him.' And I got the message. I said, 'Okay, next book: Resurrection'!"

(From "A Return to the Same City"): "I never should have fallen in love with a Mexican detective."

"You never should have fallen in love with a dead man."

Suddenly, she started to cry, covering herself from the cold and the one-eyed skinny mustached detectie before her."

Though he's made Mexico his world, Taibo was born here in Gijon.

TAIBO: "I came from a leftist family on both sides. Anarchist on the mother's side, socialist on the father's side. Political debates every time after lunch. Smart people: You discuss after lunch, not during lunch."

But the politics of the tight Taibo tribe were not appreciated by the Spanish government. So in 1958, frustrated by Franco's dictatorship, the Taibos decided it was time to leave Gijon. It was a family decision. That year, they all boarded the ship that would take them to Mexico.

TAIBO: "So I discovered myself at eight years old saying, 'where's Mexico?'

MASON: "Why Mexico?"

TAIBO: "I don't know. It was there. That's what Edmund Hillary said to Sherpa Tenzing, right? It was there. Because it's there. I like that."

The boy was intrigued by his new home, and by 1968 when students in Mexico City began rising up against the government Paco Taibo was among them:

TAIBO: "Yeah, they tried to kill me twice in those years. I mean I was crossing and a soldier shoot in '71. And well, he wasn't trying to kill me, he was trying to kill us, which is more important."

It would be a defining moment in his life:

TAIBO: "I discovered myself as a Mexican. It was very important for me. And in '68, I was a young boy who was born in Spain, has half his mind here and there. But I discovered myself as a Mexican in '68. I said, 'this is my country'."

But his new city never completely eclipsed his old home:

TAIBO (walking): "Mexico has no river, no lake, no sea. Okay. And the sound of the sea, which is very common in Gijon, was with me."

Eleven years ago, looking to create Semana Negra, he returned to Gijon. He spends three months every year organizing the festival, dealing with all the details.

In Gijon, the writers arrive in triumph. They are the stars at Paco's party, from the moment they step off the train and Black Week formally begins.

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