Sunday, November 14, 2010

Brazilian Crime Fiction: Leighton Gage, EVERY BITTER THING

Hearing about a work-in-progress from the author always makes me curious. And when Leighton Gage said his fourth Brazilian crime novel was the best yet, I had to grab the first available copy and charge right through it.

Gage was right: The buildup of his Chief Inspector Mario Silva investigations -- first Blood of the Wicked, then Buried Strangers and Dying Gasp -- have given him fresh intensity and the skills to pack detail upon detail in unrelenting suspense and intensity. Moreover, EVERY BITTER THING is a smooth and elegant read, tightly focused on the police investigation led by Chief Inspector Silva and his team.

The book opens with the murder of a wealthy and recently divorced oil worker, and blossoms, two deaths later, with the discovery of the body of a politically connected gay man. Luckily for homicide investigator Walter Pereira, Silva is alert to the need to include ALL of the crime details in any explanation of a killing. And that means he quickly eliminates Pereira's effort to blame a rejected gay lover of the murder man -- and holds off the investigator's efforts to "solve" things right away.

Almost at once, Silva's team and the data available reveal the existence of one murderer and four deaths -- at least, four counted so far. And homosexual jealousy doesn't fit as a motive for the other three situations. Silva's sidekick Arnaldo Nunes sums up the discoveries to Silva:
"I know, I know, don't even bother to say it. The MO is just too similar. It's the same killer. But it doesn't necessarily follow that the victims are connected. We could be dealing with some sick bastard who picks them at random."

"That's possible."

"But you don't think it's likely?"

"No, I don't."
That MO (modus operandi), by the way, involves a particularly sadistic killing sequence that starts with a nonfatal bullet to the belly. Ouch.

Gage, who adopted Brazil long ago as one of his well-loved homes, adeptly paints the political pressures that keep Silva on this set of cases, a drop in the bucket of the homicides that haunt urban Brazil, where wide gulfs in income, festering corruption, and nearly limitless violence are braided together with disastrous results.

Most appealing in EVERY BITTER THING is the attention to procedure, to inquiry and testing of hypotheses, and to the slow circle that traps the killer. More forms of prejudice, not just against homosexuals, threaten to distract the investigation -- but in the long run, Silva has the skills to dodge the politics around him and keep his team on task.

Although it's a pleasure to see this series blossom in fine writing and immaculate plotting, nothing from the earlier books is needed to enjoy this fourth one. I did miss some of the tension that Gage crafted in the other books in terms of Silva's personal life -- but his political survival takes center stage in EVERY BITTER THING, and Silva and Gage together have what it takes.

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