María Elvira Bermúdez Cisneros (Durango, November 27, 1916, or 1912 according to other sources, – Mexico City, May 7, 1988) was a Mexican short story writer, novelist and essayist, and one of the first narrators and theorists of the detective genre in her country. Born in Durango, soon she moved with her family to Mexico City where she grew up and was educated. She was the first woman to earn a Law degree by Escuela Libre de Derecho, a lawyer, a public defender attached to Durango and Toluca District Courts, she served as Clerk in the Supreme Court of Justice, was secretary of Social Action of the PRI and a teacher of special education at SEP. She was member of the Asociación de Escritores de México and the Instituto Internacional de Literatura Iberoamericana, and collaborated in different newspapers and magazines. She was also a defender of women’s rights and a promoter of women’s right to vote.
She made her debut as writer in 1948 in El Nacional and in the magazine Selecciones Policiacas y de Misterio, created by the screenwriter and film director Antonio Helú (1900-1972) where she published her first detective stories. Aurora Ocampo points out that “Mensaje inmotivado” (1948), collected in her book Muerte a la zaga (1985) was her first short story. However, for the Uruguayan researcher Gianna Martella “El embrollo del reloj” (1948) is her first short story. English-speaking readers have the opportunity to read this short story, translated as “The Puzzle of the Broken Watch”, in Foreign Bodies edited by Martin Edwards (The British Library Crime Classics, 2018).
She published only one detective novel: Diferentes razones tiene la muerte, (Talleres Gráficas de la Nación in 1953), a large-format edition with illustrations by writer Salvador Reyes Nevares, and reissued by Plaza y Valdés in 1987.
Most of her detective stories are collected in two books: Detente, sombra (Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, 1984) and Muerte a la zaga (Premià, 1985). All these short stories were later compiled in Cuentos presuntamente completos (Instituto de Cultura del Estado de Durango, 2014).
She edited also the anthologies: Los mejores cuentos policiacos mexicanos (1955 ), Cuentos fantasticos mexicanos (1963, Chapingo 1986) and Cuento policiaco mexicano, breve antología (1987).
Until 1986 she was one of the few Mexican writers interested in crime fiction and the best known. Her two main literary creations were the journalist and amateur detective Armando H. Zozaya, who features in her novel Diferentes razones tiene la muerte and in several short stories like “El embrollo del reloj”, “La clave literaria” and “Ella fue testigo”; and María Elena Morán, a politician’s wife and the first female detective in Latin America, who plays the leading role in her short stories “Precisamente ante sus ojos” and “Las cosas hablan”, included in Muerte a la zaga; and in “Detente sombra”, from the book of the same title. Perhaps for this reason the poet Marco Antonio Campos called her “the Mexican Agatha Christie”.
With regard to her theoretical work, María Elvira Bermúdez shows her knowledge on classic detective fiction in Ensayo sobre la novela policial (1947).
In April 1988, she was paid homage by Direccion de Literatura del Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes and the publishing houses Planeta and Plaza y Valdes at Tamayo Museum; on 7 May of that same year she passed away.
Book Content: Alegoría presuntuosa (1971); Cuentos herejes (1984); Detente, sombra (1984); Muerte a la zaga (1985); and Encono de hormigas (1987)