This certainly is no tourist brochure for Brazil! Forget the sands of Ipanema. Forget sipping caparinhas on some leafy terrace. Forget samba-ing down the streets of São Paolo. Especially forget the last.
Chief Inspector Mario Silva of Brazil’s federal police is our insider’s guide to what makes Brazil tick. Or not tick. Corruption is a fact of life at all levels of the political, judicial, and police organizations, says Gage through his stories. But in each arena there are a few virtuous souls who champion justice for all versus benefit to a few, and law over greed.
Silva is sent reluctantly from his home base in Brasilia to a remote community in the state of São Paolo. A bishop on his way to consecrate a new church has been murdered by a sniper. In Brazil, it seems, priests are not just priests. They are sometimes activists on behalf of the millions of poor against the few of the land-owning rich. So, could the bishop’s murder be politically driven? Was he one of the banner-carrying clergy advocating the liberation of arable lands from the clutches of the land-owning few to give to the “landless workers”? Silva knows a cow pasture when he sees it, and navigating the cow patties will take skill and diplomacy, the latter of which he struggles to find.
He is assisted by a couple of other federal agents, one of whom is his nephew. But they alone are not enough; they will need the assistance of a wide assortment of characters, including a couple of priests, wild children of the favelas, and a television journalist. Through their eyes we discover the underlying rot that shores up the class and race schisms that haunt Brazil.
This book is not for everyone. It is violent, profane, sad, and haunting. There is a lot of killing and inhumanity in the book, and while Gage does not linger over the detail, he does not shy away from explicit descriptions, either.
It will be interesting to hear what Gage has to say about how representational this is of Brazil as a whole. (If our country was totally the vision presented by Michael Connelly, George Pelecanos, or Dennis Lehane, we might all have moved to Antarctica a long time ago.) Leighton Gage will be at Murder by the Book on February 21, at 1:00 p.m. His latest book is BURIED STRANGERS (hardcover, $24).