Brazil has long been one of my favourite countries – although I can only claim a very short (two-week) personal acquaintance with it. However, I have danced to its music, rejoiced in its football victories and read all the news I could about this beautiful, dramatic, troubling and troubled country. I have also succumbed to its literature and gone through bouts of a rigorous diet of Jorge Amado, Clarice Lispector and Machado de Assis. I have even read one book of crime fiction set in the country, written by the American Leighton Gage, which was my Crime Fiction Pick for August 2012. But until now, I had not read any crime fiction written by a bona fide Brazilian author. Now, thanks to the challenge set by Kerrie through the Global Reading Challenge, I have been introduced to Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza and his pensive detective Inspector Espinosa.
Ambitious executive Ricardo Carvalho is found shot in his car in the parking garage just outside his office in the centre of Rio. It may look like suicide, but the weapon and the victim’s briefcase have gone missing. So the police initially believe it is murder: a car-jacking or robbery gone wrong, as is so often the case in the mean streets of Rio. However, Inspector Espinosa is not content with obvious explanations. He wonders about alternative scenarios. Could Carvalho’s work at the rather shady international mining company Planalto Minerações have led to his killing, or could his beautiful, independently-minded wife have finally taken her revenge for his relentless womanising? Then Carvalho’s secretary, Rose, disappears before she has time to disclose something important to his wife. Both the police and the readers believe they now have a straightforward procedural, with interviewing of witnesses and sifting through clues, but the book suddenly changes gears. We now see the story through the eyes of Max, a small-time crook who witnessed Carvalho’s death. As each of the characters operates from greed, lust and other very human flaws, the story gets more and more complicated.
‘The Silence of the Rain’ is the first novel in the series and perhaps it has a ‘first novel’ talent for breaking the rules of the crime genre. The book starts with a prologue that seems to give away the whole story… but it cleverly hides as much as it reveals. The point of view shifts from third person to first person not in a clearly-signposted, regular fashion as we have become accustomed with modern crime fiction. Instead, Inspector Espinosa goes to bed in third person and wakes up in first person, which I found a little disconcerting. Just when you think you have a handle on the story, the perspective changes, which is a very interesting technique and which I felt really enriched the story. However, it does not necessarily play by the Anglo-Saxon ‘rules’. We also find here one of the most imaginative methods of killing someone (even when handcuffed) that I have ever come across in crime literature – although perhaps a step too far for many readers.
This book offers an atmospheric description of the beauty and squalor of Rio de Janeiro and its inhabitants, as well as a rich panorama of a polarised society of haves and have-nots, where police corruption is expected and human vices are taken advantage of. But the reason I will be coming back for more books in the series (if I can get my hands on them) is because I am charmed by a detective who inhabits a different space and time from most people. Espinosa is an avid hunter of books rather than of criminals, susceptible to female charms but is not quite sure how to talk to women. He is a detective who lets different types of cheese accumulate in his fridge, opens a beer and is filled with world-weariness, who hates making decisions, who is basically a gentle, thoughtful man, as he ‘…started thinking about death – not about the abstract idea of death, but about specifically how much time he had left. Aged forty-two, on a Saturday night, in a bachelor pad in Copacabana. He decided he was already dead. He went to bed.’
I wonder in what mood he will wake up next time.