Tuesday, November 16, 2010

'Every Bitter Thing': A Taste of Brazilian Justice

Review: EVERY BITTER THING (Soho Crime 2010)
Author: Leighton Gage


This latest installment in the Chief Inspector Mario Silva Investigation Series starts off with a seemingly random collection of murders. The only obvious tie, at first, is the modus operandi -- a gunshot to the gut, followed by a deadly bludgeoning. The victims consist of a divorced petroleum engineer in Rio de Janiero, followed by an author of books on human sexuality (sort of Brazil's answer to Kinsey), then the son of a Venezuelan foreign minister. This last one sets off alarms and brings Brazil's federal police into the picture.

Enter our hero, Chief Inspector Mario Silva, a man of sardonic humor who walks the fine line between dealing with local homicide investigator Walter Pereira and appeasing his own politically-motivated boss, Nelson Sampaio, by giving him the "mushroom treatment" ("keep in the dark and feed him shit"). Silva has a dour sidekick, Amaldo Nunes, who doubles as a thorn in Pereira's side. The two men, along with a cast of other colorful characters, doggedly investigate the seemingly unrelated cases that came before in order to get to the bottom of the potentially explosive matter at hand.

Meanwhile, other murders start occurring, revealing a heretofore unseen pattern. Once the pattern is revealed, the detectives end up in a race to find the killer.

Author Leighton Gage has an amazing facility for dialogue. He writes it with dry humor and the feel of snappy "old movie" banter. The story moves at a nice clip, as well. The pacing is perfect and, with each revelation, one is compelled to keep reading further.

Although the series is named for Silva, he is actually at the heart of an ensemble of cops. Each of them is distinctive. All of them play an important role in unraveling the mystery.

And while I had my suspicions about the killer, I think Gage does a nice job of hiding the ball in plain sight, thus playing fair with the reader.

In the end, the story is about the ways that justice can go wrong and how righting it can involve crossing the line.

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