Thursday, August 25, 2005

Book Review August 25th

The Silence of the Rain by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza (translated by Benjamin Moser), Henry Holt and Company, 261 pages, $24.00

 

“I’d rather not have to fill out useless forms or write reports as an expression of police incompetence. I’d rather, when I meet a pretty woman, not have to start out with the ominous line: ‘I’m Inspector Espinoza from the First Precinct’.”

If your image of Rio de Janeiro is one created by your travel agent, don’t bother looking for it here. Espinoza’s city is one of prostitutes and murder, where crime and corruption are as easily found behind a police badge as in a back alley.

A best-selling novel in Brazil, The Silence of the Rain is the first of a trilogy to be published in the U.S.

A prominent businessman abruptly commits suicide, leaving behind a note for the police – and a large amount of cash - asking them to dispose of the evidence. The gun and the money vanish before the police even arrive, and the death is ruled a homicide.

While Espinoza tracks down the ‘murderer’, a gruesome trail of bodies begins to appear, with each victim linked to the suicide.

As mysteries go, it’s no great shakes, namely because there shouldn’t be a mystery to solve. Any number of forensic tests could have determined the true cause of death, just as later bodies go unidentified because of a lack of fingerprints.

In an odd way this works, as police incompetence and budget restraints turn an otherwise simple case into an old fashioned who-dunnit. But for an American audience used to using DNA tests to settle even simple paternity suits, its frustrating and slow going.

As in James Lee Burke’s Robicheaux series, the true story lies within the character and the city he haunts.

Espinoza is a rarity in his department, an honest and educated officer so used to corruption that he recruits his own partners right out of the academy to ensure their integrity.

At times he plays the part of Columbo, stumbling through an interview while silently sizing up the opposition. A moment later he’s critiquing art or stopping at a used bookstore to purchase an illustrated edition of Moby Dick.

His work has consumed his adult life, leaving him alone in an apartment cluttered with books and endless amounts of pasta dinners in the freezer. While he ponders the mystery at hand he’s also searching for a way out, something outside the department to validate his life.

Garcia-Roza’s writing is witty and atmospheric, a wonderful change of pace from the cookie cutter writing that often taints the mystery genre. The Silence of the Rain is a welcome addition to American bookshelves.

A final word of warning: In the end, the mystery is resolved – in a manner that is unforeseen, erotic, and frighteningly disturbing.

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