The main action of Mexico takes place in Mexico over a three-day period in the fictional city of Toledo in 1961. The occasion is the annual bullfighting festival, at which two matadors — one an acclaimed hero of the sport, the other a scrapping contender — are prepared to fight to the death for fame and glory.
Through the memories of the book's narrator, Norman Clay, an American journalist of Spanish and Indian descent, Michener provides plenty of historical background, including a depiction of the gruesome human sacrifices that took place hundreds of years before on the city's periphery. The story focuses on bullfighting, but also provides great insight into Mexican culture. The reader follows the bulls from their breeding to their "sorting" to the pageantry and spectacle of the bullring, where picadors and banderilleros prepare the bull for the entrance of the matador with his red cape. The author creates one of his most memorable characters in the bullfighting "critic" Leon Ledesma, a flamboyant sportswriter who elevates bullfighting into an art form through his grandiloquent essays.