Saturday, February 09, 2008

Crime and Punishment: Leighton Gage, BLOOD OF THE WICKED

To acquire another language is to acquire another soul -- and Leighton Gage puts every inch of his on the line in BLOOD OF THE WICKED, his hot new mystery from Soho Crime. Gage makes his home in three countries -- the United States, the Netherlands, and São Paulo, Brazil -- and from the taste of his fiction, he really does mean LIVES.

Plunging into the underworld of Brazil's urban and rural crime and despair, Gage has spun a tour de force of police procedure and human lust and love. Mario Silva, Chief Inspector for Criminal Matters, wears an elegant gray suit each day and spends half his energy keeping himself and his work safe from the tangle of politics of the Brazilian Federal Police. His nephew Hector Costa is also in the force, handicapped by always being seen as the young relative of his noted uncle. Both have been forged as law enforcement in the flames of urban violence that affect residents of São Paolo, with its attendant family tragedies.

When a series of high-profile murders begins in a rural city of "only" a quarter million people, Silva and his nephew are dragged into the countryside version of the rich and powerful versus the poor and easily disposed of. Land wars pit thousands of landless peasants against the establishment that owns huge tracts of Brazil. And inevitably, the Church plays a role: as power monger, as wordsmith, as measurer of sin and atonement.

In fact, Silva's first reason for going to Cascatos do Pontal is the sniper killing of a visiting bishop -- and it turns out that the bishop provoked his death by taking on the cause of a slaughtered peasant. The bishop's surviving assistant fills in Silva's nephew Hector:

"All of us were outraged, the bishop in particular. Several weeks before he died he went to Cascatas and preached a sermon in the old church. He drew his inspiration from Psalm Fifty-eight, verse ten: The passage reads 'The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance: He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.' His thesis,in a nutshell, was that whoever spills innocent blood is evil and deserving of having their own blood spilled."

So the bishop unleashed a fresh round of violence with horrible repercussions.

In Gage's hands, innocence finds new definition on behalf of the downtrodden: a boy who has sold his body can still be pure and worth defending. Priests sometimes molest children, sometimes shelter them, sometimes offer their own lives as hostage for justice. There's more than a little of Graham Greene's "whiskey priest" in the heroes that Silva discovers, and if he and his nephew are to survive the carnage erupting around their presence, they'll have to quickly arrange protection for the good, before hell's own minions destroy the best of the region in a flood of very graphic blood and body parts.

This is a fast-paced, intense read, laced with dreadful scenes and terrible desperation, but also with surprising forms of redemption. Gage has crafted a stunning first novel (he's a seasoned writer in other fields), and Soho Crime already has three more in the series, ready to release at one-year intervals.

An extra plus for Kingdom Books: Gage offered to include our Northeast Kingdom Vermont shop in his book tour. He'll be here on February 29 for a "Limited Edition Author Dinner" -- e-mail us for details ( What a great chance to get in on the start of this new and top-notch career in crime fiction.

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