So Glad That You’re Coming to Brazil*

BrazilThe 2016 Summer Olympics will get underway at the end of this week in Rio de Janeiro. And I hope everyone has a safe, enjoyable visit. Brazil really is a beautiful country with fine people, good food, and a great deal of diversity. And of course, there’s the football. Trust me, it’s lovely. But safe? I’m not so sure. All you need do is look at some of the crime fiction from and about Brazil to know that things there aren’t always as peaceful and beautiful as the advertisements might suggest.

One of the better-known crime fiction series set in Brazil is Luis Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s Inspector Espinosa series. Espinosa is based in Rio de Janeiro, but it’s a big city. So he has different sorts of experiences in different parts of it. In The Silence of the Rain, in which Espinosa is introduced, he investigates the death of Dr. Richard Carvalho. The victim was a very successful business executive who worked for the mining company Planalto Minerações. Then one afternoon, he left his office, went out to his car, and shot himself. Or did he? There’s evidence that he could have committed suicide, but there’s also a good possibility that he was murdered. As Espinosa traces Carvalho’s last days and weeks, it becomes clear that the key to this whole mystery is Carvalho’s secretary/personal assistant, Rose Chaves Benevides. The only problem is, she’s gone missing. So Espinosa has to add finding her to his list – especially after there are two more murders…

Leighton Gage’s Chief Inspector Mario Silva is an officer with the Brazilian Federal Police. In Blood of the Wicked, he and his team investigate when Dom Felipe Antunes, the Bishop of Presidente Vargas, is assassinated. The bishop has made a trip to the remote town of Cascatas do Pontal in connection with the opening of a brand-new Catholic church. But when he leaves the helicopter that’s taken him to the town, he’s murdered. And it turns out that this murder could have real political ramifications. The bishop was very much against liberation theologians – priests and others who were fighting for the rights of poor, landless workers. So when Silva arrives, he finds himself right in the middle of a war between wealthy landowners and peasants. And neither side trusts him very much, because he’s not from the area. Then there are two other murders. Now Silva knows that this case goes deeper than someone who simply wanted to shoot the bishop because of his political stance.

Patricia Melo has written several noir novels that show the sometimes darker sides of life in Brazil. The Body Snatcher, for example, is the story of a former telemarketer who lost his job in São Paulo, and moved to the smaller town of Corumbá, near the Bolivian border. One day, he witnesses a small plane crash, and rushes to see what’s happened. He discovers the pilot, but he’s too late to save the man. While he’s there, though, he takes a backpack and wristwatch from the plane. Later, when he opens up the backpack, he discovers a valuable cache of cocaine. Rather than turn in the cocaine to the police, he keeps it, and arranges with his friend Moacir to try to sell it and pocket the money. That decision turns out to be disastrous when it turns out that the cocaine is the property of some drug dealers who are not happy about their property going missing…

In Dan Smith’s The Darkest Heart, we are introduced to Zico, a former contract killer brought up in the dirt and grit of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. Now he lives in the small, interior town of Piritanga, where he’s trying to turn over a new leaf, as the saying goes. He’s got a legitimate job and is saving so that he and his girlfriend, Daniella, can have a life together. Then he’s asked to do one more hit – a hit that will earn him thousands. And this isn’t just an ordinary hit (if there is such a thing). It’s not a case of a criminal rival or highly-placed business executive. Instead, the victim is to be Sister Dolores Beckett, an American nun who’s moved to Brazil. Her ‘crime’ has been that she’s collaborating with workers’ groups and other activists to improve their lot, restore some of the ecosystem, and so on. In other words, she’s upset some very powerful and wealthy people. Zico doesn’t like this job, But the man who’s hired him has threatened to kill Daniella, as well as the old man Zico does odd jobs for, if he doesn’t do the hit. And there’s considerable money involved. Now Zico has to find a way to stay alive, keep the people he cares about safe, and try to get free of his ‘employer.’

And then there’s Edney Silvestre’s literary thriller Happiness is Easy, which takes place in São Paulo. In this novel, we meet Olavo Bettencourt, whose PR firm has made him a very wealthy and powerful man. That’s even more the case since he’s discovered that political campaigns are just as much advertisement as any other campaign. With so much clout, you’d think that Bettencourt would be what’s often called a ‘kingmaker.’ And that’s what he thinks himself. But the reality is, he is, in his way, just a pawn in a much larger game. And we find out just how vulnerable he is when a criminal gang decides to abduct Olavo’s only son for ransom. The only problem is, they get the wrong child. As the story goes on, readers go ‘behind the scenes’ for a look at the political and financial corruption that goes on in high-stakes elections. And readers follow the fortunes of the people whose lives are affected by the kidnapping of one small boy.

See what I mean? Brazil is physically beautiful, diverse, and in some ways, majestic. But peaceful and safe? I’m not so sure of that…

 

ps. The ‘photo isn’t very clear, I’m afraid. But it shows a part of the city of Juiz de Fora, which is in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, where I spent a wonderful summer (or is that winter?) many years ago.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Chris de Burgh’s Brazil.

29 Comments

Filed under Dan Smith, Edney Silvestre, Leighton Gage, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, Patricia Melo

29 responses to “So Glad That You’re Coming to Brazil*

  1. How wonderful you spent time in Brazil. I’ve never been anywhere in South America and only to Puerto Rico in the Caribbean.

    I have not read any crime fiction set in Brazil either, but this seems like the perfect time. Thanks for giving us these suggestions.

    • I really do feel fortunate, Pat; it was one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. If you do get the chance to visit Brazil, I hope you’ll have a wonderful time.

  2. I have read books in Garcia-Roza’s and Gage’s series, but not the other two authors. Hope to read some works by them someday too.

    • I think Garcia-Roza and Gage have written some great books, Tracy; I’m glad you’ve had a chance to read them. And I hope you’l get a chance to try the others (oh, do I know what the whole TBR thing is like!).

  3. Col

    The first three mentioned are on the pile, just haven’t got to them yet.

  4. Oh dear another country I don’t think I’ve visited either in real life or via a book – I really should amend this especially with your great suggestions – I do like the sound of The Darkest Heart

    • Oh, I think that’s a good ‘un, Cleo. It’s gritty, and there’s plenty of violence. But it’s got some solid characters, in my humble opinion and a real sense of setting. If you do get the chance to read it, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

  5. Reblogged this on Bum's Landing Memorial – Andrè Michael Pietroschek at WordPress.com and commented:
    Crimes on another continent, still with some shocking similarities to our own work-routines here in Europe…

  6. Pingback: So Glad That You’re Coming to Brazil* – Bum's Landing Memorial – Andrè Michael Pietroschek at WordPress.com

  7. Thanks for the book recs. I have never read any of these writers.

  8. Like Cleo, I don’t think I’ve read a single book set in Brazil, of any genre. It does always seem like a place of extremes – vibrant and colourfully alive on the one hand and yet with some very dark stuff going on underneath. A perfect setting for crime novels in fact…

    • Oh, I couldn’t have said it any better, FictionFan! That’s precisely what it is. If you do get the chance for a literary trip to Brazil, I recommend it. There’s so much there, and some of those stories have a really strong sense of place and culture.

  9. Margot: I read Blood of the Wicked a few years ago. While I enjoyed the characters I did not enjoy the vigilante justice and high body count. I did appreciate that Gage in comments to my post did not over-react to my concerns but wanted to me know there were fewer bodies in later books. I regret he is now gone.

    • I miss Gage, too, Bill. I agree with you, too, about the vigilante theme and the body count in Blood of the Wicked. I didn’t care for those things, myself. Still, as you say, the characters are interesting and well-developed.

  10. Brazil sounds like such a fascinating place. But I must admit, I’d be a bit scare to go to the Olympics with all the terrorists striking around the world. It would be a massive strike for the bad guys if something happened during the games. One a side note, one of the many things I so enjoy about your posts is finding authors from other countries that I wouldn’t know about any other way. Sounds like several new-to-me authors here to check out. Thanks, 🙂

    • Thanks for the kind words, Mason. And Brazil really is absolutely fascinating. If you do ever get the chance to visit, I recommend it. And if you do get the chance to try some of the authors I mentioned in the post, I hope you’ll enjoy their work.

  11. Excellent post, Margot. It’s so difficult to recall “crime fiction from and about Brazil” as you have done here with such ease. Fitting tribute to the Rio Olympics — though not the sporting kind! I have read the odd novel set in Latin America including Jack Higgins’ THE LAST PLACE GOD MADE which, incidentally, is set in and around Brazil. I recommend it.

    • Thank you, Prashant, for the kind words and the recommendation. Higgins has written some very high-quality thrillers. And no, these novels don’t exactly show the very best, kindest side of Brazil. Still, they’re quite atmospheric.

  12. Pingback: So Glad That You’re Coming to Brazil* | picardykatt's Blog

  13. kathyd

    Brazil has always fascinated me. When Leighton Gage posted at Murder is Everywhere about unknown history, art, including art made from items in an enormous dump where poor people live, architecture, literature, and so much more, I was fascinated.
    I met a woman from Sao Paolo who told me that it’s like New York City with a forest in the middle of it. Wow. But so much of the country is unique.
    I have read three Espinosa books and liked them. Espinosa is a great character, an intellectual, outlier police detective. he sympathizes with street children. He doesn’t think like typical cops nor work by the book, but he finds he perpetrators.

    • Brazil really is a fascinating place, Kathy. I feel very fortunate that I was able to spend time there. And you’re quite right about Espinosa. I like his character very much. As you say, he doesn’t have a typical way of thinking, and he has a wider perspective than you might think. And I love it that he is a book lover. 🙂

  14. Wow. I’ve always wanted to visit Brazil. I have never read a crime novel that takes place there, but I’ve wanted to. Thanks for the examples. They’ve piqued my interest.

    • It really is a fascinating place, Sue. I know I keep using that word in these comments, but it’s true. And Brazil is an excellent context for a crime novel. If you do get a chance to try one of these books, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

  15. Thanks Margot – I’m so ignorant of these and they sound fascinating. I’ll see which, translated form the Spanish, I can get in Italian, as linguistically that should be more accurate for me (translator skills notwithstanding)

    • No-one has time to read everything, Sergio! And you might indeed find them more linguistically accurate in Italian. I hope that if you get to them, you’ll enjoy them.

  16. Lucky you to have had the chance to stay in Brazil, I envy you that. I have read a Patricia Melo book, and some non-crime Brazilian books – so I’m grateful for the suggestions.

    • I do feel fortunate, thanks, Moira. I know how life gets, but if you ever get the chance to visit, I recommend it. And if you do try some of these books, I hope you’ll enjoy them.

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