Tuesday, January 30, 2007

December Heat, by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza

This is a brilliant mystery. (Since Portuguese is my mother tongue, of course I had to read the original "Achados e Perdidos" and, therefore, this review does not refer to the English translation.)

In Rio de Janeiro, an ex-policeman gets overly drunk during an outing with his girlfriend, and loses his wallet on the way out of a restaurant. Next morning, he wakes up at home without any recollection of the past night's events; he can't remember driving home and he can't locate a couple of personal items like his belt or his wallet. In the meanwhile, his girlfriend, a prostitute, is found dead by asphixiation all tied up to her own bed, in her own apartment. A street urchin finds the lost wallet and, discovering that it belongs to a cop, throws it out again after lifting out the money inside. The wallet is picked up by a low-life man, who proceeds to pose as a policeman (using the identification encountered) to extort money from drug dealers and other criminals. Other murders follow and the lives of several people seem to become interlinked to the first murder and to the lost wallet, but the connections are tenuous and uncertain. In order to figure out all that really happened, the reader has to keep going all the way until the very last line, which wraps the novel masterfully with a bang.

Detective Espinosa, a "carioca" version of Hercule Poirot, sets out to investigate the crime and what follows is a twisty story through the underground of The Wonderful City, Rio de Janeiro. Garcia-Roza is a master at characterizing the locale and its ambience in the smallest details. His novels are a true delight for expatriates like me who can vizualize every street corner he mentions. I imagine that his writings may not have the same effect on those who are not as familiar with the city, but even if this picture is more vague in their minds' eyes, it is still mysterious, seductive, and downright alluring, and, in all that, it is faithful to Rio.

It can be said that after this book, I became a fan of this author.

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