In Say Her Name, Francisco Goldman wrote cleavingly of his new wife's death in a surfing accident. Four years on, he lauds and laments another love - Mexico City's Distrito Federal.

At first, the capital's labyrinthine heart is a place to which he turns in order to find how to live without Aura, to try to heal his "maiming of the spirit".

It becomes part of his therapy. He learns to drive for the first time, through intersections where cars cross simultaneously from all directions, and shrines to the Virgin of Guadalupe stand ominously at corners.

The Distrito Federal is the core of, yet curiously separate from, the rest of the city's 22 million inhabitants. It's comparatively affluent, liberal, improbably free of the drug-driven horrors scarring other parts of Mexico.

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It's a delight and a solace to Goldman, in spite of its overflowing sewers, imminent earthquakes and summer thunderstorms "like cosmic sledgehammers". In an account that's travelogue, memoir and social commentary, he evokes its police on rollerblades, fire-eaters at traffic lights, elderly men who never leave home without collar and tie. He threads its nearly-100,000 streets, eats at its restaurants specialising in protein-rich beetles and worms. Then, halfway through, the book darkens with shocking abruptness. In mid-2013, a dozen apparently innocent young people are abducted ("levitated") from an inner city nightclub ironically called Heavens. Mutilated bodies turn up, weeks later. Some are never found. The police investigation is incompetent, uninterested. Corruption and savagery have reached the Distrito Federal.

Goldman accompanies an intrepid journalist friend investigating the disappearances. He visits the homes of bereft, bewildered families, where photos of more vanished or murdered relatives appear as months pass. He excoriates an administration where political damage control takes precedence over justice, the drug cartels pervert and butcher as they wish, and where the only hope seems to lie in women and the young. Through the grief and rage of those seeking the truth about their murdered children or partners, he con-fronts his own sorrow at the death of his wife and the wounding of her city.

It's a narrative that is both lyrical and concussively immediate. By its end, you feel that Goldman may be emerging from his own torment, but that there are scores of thousands throughout Mexico and its capital who still see no way out of theirs.

The Interior Circuit
by Francisco Goldman

(Atlantic $39.99)

- Canvas