Category Archives: Leighton Gage

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.

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

In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle*

JunglesThere’s something about jungles and forests. If you don’t know what you’re doing, they’re very dangerous – even fatal. And if you couple that with the risk of murder, the context is even more menacing. So it’s little wonder that jungles feature in crime fiction. There’s also the fact that the jungle is, for a lot of people, an exotic setting. That can add a layer of intrigue to a crime novel.

In Agatha Christie’s Cards on the Table, for instance, we are introduced to Major John Despard. He is one of eight guests invited to a strange dinner party hosted by the very eccentric Mr. Shaitana. Four of those guests are sleuths (including Hercule Poirot). The other four (including Despard) are people Shiatiana thinks have gotten away with murder. During the dinner, Shaitana lets out various hints about the crimes some of his guests may have committed. That turns out to be a fatal mistake, as he is killed during a game of after-dinner bridge. The only possible suspects are the people Shaitana has accused of murder in his roundabout way, so Poirot and the other sleuths look into those people’s pasts to see which of them is guilty. That’s how they learn about Despard’s history. He’s spent plenty of time in wild places, and agreed to take Professor Luxmore and his wife into the Amazon jungle so that Luxmore could study some of the plant life there. Luxmore died there, and everyone said it was of a fever. But was it? Or did Despard commit murder? And if he did, did he also kill Shaitana? You’re absolutely right, fans of The Man in the Brown Suit.

In Aaron Elkins’ Little Tiny Teeth, anthropologist Gideon Oliver takes a trip into the Amazon rainforest. It’s partly a getaway adventure, and partly an opportunity to enhance his professional knowledge. Then, follow passenger Arden Scofield, an ethnobiologist, is murdered. Now, Oliver has to not only survive the jungle trip, but also find out which of the people with him is the killer.

There’s another Amazon jungle setting in Leighton Gage’s Dying Gasp. In that novel, Deputado Roberto Malan brings Chief Inspector Mario Silva a very disturbing case. Malan’s eighteen-year-old granddaughter, Marta, has gone missing. This isn’t an ordinary disappearance, either. The family is prominent and wealthy, and Malan doesn’t want any scandal attached to the Malan name. And scandal there would be, too. It turns out that Marta ran away from home after being beaten by her father. And her grandfather doesn’t want the media or the public to get word of the story. So he asks Silva to handle the case personally. This Silva agrees to do. The trail leads to Manaus, capital of the State of Amazonas, in the heart of the Amazon jungle. There, so it is believed, Marta is being held as part of an underage prostitution ring. If he’s going to learn the truth, and find Marta before it’s too late, Silva will have to go up against bureaucratic incompetence and greed, the jungle itself, and an old nemesis.

Of course, there are lots of other jungles besides the Amazon. For example, John Enright’s Apelu Soifua novels take place in American Samoa. Soifua is a police detective who’s originally from the island, but spent seven years with the San Francisco Police. In Pago Pago Tango, the first of the series, he’s returned to his homeland and now works with the local police force. One day, he’s called to the home of wealthy Gordon Turich, an executive with a powerful tuna company. Turich’s home has been invaded, and some things stolen. What Turich doesn’t tell Soifua is that one of the items is a gun. It turns out that that gun was used to commit murder, so Soifua soon finds himself going after a killer as well as a thief. Enright’s novels highlight the culture clash between the dominant US culture and the culture of the people who have always lived in Samoa. And that includes their views of living in and with the jungle.

And then there’s Donna Malane’s Surrender. That story features missing person expert Diane Rowe, who’s been commissioned by Wellington Inspector Frank McFay to help identify a ‘John Doe’ whose remains were found in Rimutaka State Forest. In one plot thread of this story, readers get to ‘follow along’ as Rowe goes into the forest where the remains were found, looks for any evidence at all that might help her, and slowly discovers the truth about the body. It turns out that this is a person who went missing twenty-five years earlier, so solving the case won’t be easy. But Rowe eventually learns the truth. And in more than one place in the novel, we see that a jungle can be a very dangerous place…

Although it’s not, strictly speaking, a jungle, a dense forest plays a role in Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind. Newly-minted psychologist Stephanie Anderson is living and working in Dunedin when she gets a new client, Elisabeth Clark. Years ago, her younger sister Gracie was abducted, and never found. Not even a body was discovered. That story is eerily similar to Stephanie’s own sad family history. When she was fourteen, her younger sister Gemma went missing. Despite a massive search, she was never found. Against her better professional judgement, Stephanie decides to lay her own ghosts to rest, and use what she learns from her client to find the person who devastated so many lives. She takes a journey back to her home town of Wanaka, and along the way, traces the person responsible. I won’t give away spoilers, but it’s another example of the danger of forests.

Jungles and forests are beautiful places, and necessary for the planet’s ecosystem. But that doesn’t mean they’re fun, worry-free places. At least, not in crime fiction.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Solomon Linda’s The Lion Sleeps Tonight, made popular by The Tokens. Ladysmith Black Mambazo has done a version, too, with the Mint Juleps, that I personally like very much. There are other versions, too, of course.

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Filed under Aaron Elkins, Agatha Christie, Donna Malane, John Enright, Leighton Gage, Paddy Richardson

In Memoriam: Leighton Gage

Leighton GageIt is with great sadness that I learned of the passing of talented and supportive crime fiction author Leighton Gage. Gage was born in the U.S. but lived in many places in his life, most notably in Brazil, the setting for his Mario Silva series. In the Mario Silva novels Gage created well-drawn characters, made effective social commentary and really, simply told good stories. And his novels evoke Brazil in a way that few other series I have read do. Here are the novels, which I encourage you to read:
 

Blood of the Wicked
Buried Strangers
Dying Gasp
Every Bitter Thing
A Vine in the Blood
Perfect Hatred
 

But Gage was much more than just a skilled author. He was always supportive of other authors and encouraged us. He had a solid sense of humour, a genuine interest in people, and a sense of dedication and commitment to his work that served as a good example to the rest of us. He made friends all over the world and for good reason. His passing has left a void in the world of crime fiction.

My thoughts and wishes for peace and healing to his wife and family. Thank you for sharing him with the rest of us.

For more on Leighton Gage, please visit this excellent post by José Ignacio at The Game’s Afoot. Also please visit this post at Murder is Everywhere.

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Filed under Leighton Gage

This is the Story of a Girl*

Thanks to Pop Culture Nerd, My Life as a Book is back! It’s a fun meme in which players complete sentences about themselves with titles of books. I had a lot of fun being a part of last year’s meme, and now that the 2011 edition is out, I’ve decided to jump in again :-). So here goes!

 

One time at band/summer camp, I: Buried Strangers (Leighton Gage)

 

Weekends at my house are: Total Chaos (Jean-Claude Izzo)

 

My neighbour is: Thirteen Steps Down (Ruth Rendell)

 

My boss is: The Man in the Brown Suit (Agatha Christie)

 

My ex was: The Merry Misogynist (Colin Cotterill)

 

My superhero secret identity is: Nemesis (Agatha Christie)

 

You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry because: Vengeance is Mine! (Mickey Spillane)

 

I’d win a gold medal in: Triple Jeopardy (Rex Stout) – Certainly not in any athletic events – trust me!

 

I’d pay good money for:  The Moonstone (Wilkie Collins)

 

If I were president, I would: Pray for Silence (Linda Castillo)

 

When I don’t have good books, I:  Die a Little (Megan Abbott)

 

Loud talkers at the movies should be: More Work for the Undertaker (Margery Allingham)

 

 

How about you? Wanna play? All you need to do is complete the sentences in your own way, with your own title choices. Then, just post a comment at the meme site. Come on! Let’s have some fun :-)!

 

Ps  The ‘photos? Yes, those are of me; they are from a very long  time ago ;-).

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Nine Days’ Absolutely (Story of a Girl).

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Colin Cotterill, Jean-Claude Izzo, Leighton Gage, Linda Castillo, Margery Allingham, Megan Abbott, Mickey Spillane, Rex Stout, Ruth Rendell, Wilkie Collins