This is one of those books that fascinates not only for the story, which was well-plotted, thought-through and paced; but also for the interesting location.
It begins in a Brazilian favela in Sao Paulo. A youngish police officer, Mario Leme, is often found regularly patrolling a specific area in his car; even though it is dangerous for a policeman. He has a reason, though. His wife, Renata, was murdered here, probably by a drug gangster with an automatic weapon, and Mario wants to find the man responsible.
Renata was a devoted worker looking after the welfare of the poor in this part of Sao Paulo. When corrupt building companies start bullying people, she was on the side of the under-dog. But to Mario, she represented much more. She was the new life he had always wanted; affection, laughter and a home. Now, with her gone, he wants to make sense of her death.
His partner, the son of another cop, Lisboa, is trying to keep him straight. Lisboa has a number of children, a wife who feeds him and keeps the home tidy and livable, but he finds it hard to get through to Mario.
There is a rich kid in a car, driving erratically, and Mario sees the car suddenly crash. It is a heavy car, bulletproof, and the boy was the son of a wealthy Sao Paulo couple, and when Mario goes to see how the occupant is, he is kept back by two Military Police officers, who explain that there was a bad accident and the occupant died in the crash. This could be considered standard procedure, if Mario hadn’t seen the bullet holes in the boy’s chest.
The narrative becomes a good, fast story about corruption and how it affects all, from the poorest to the richest in a country. It has a satisfying number of twists and a denouement I hadn’t expected; which from a crime writer and crime aficionado is high praise. I liked the characters and the interplay between them.
However, there is one aspect that needled. The blurb boasted that the “Portuguese slang (was) seamlessly interwoven throughout”, but I beg to differ. You can have too much of a good thing, and for me, the incomprehensible terms used in almost every paragraph was a bit of a turn off for me. I know no Portuguese, and while the language used was mostly comprehensible because of context, a hell of a lot was not. I’ve been to Portugal a few times, but that didn’t help. Perhaps I should have dug out a phrase book, but rather than that, a short list of useful words would not have broken the publisher’s budget and would have added to my own enjoyment.
Mark it down for that?
No. This was a really good book, an easy read and with red herrings galore. I enjoyed it enormously, even with the regular scratch of my head as I stared at yet more Brazilian slang.