Leighton Gage’s first three Chief Inspector Mario Silva crime novels, beginning with Blood of the Wicked, were extremely graphic, violent stories of Brazil and Silva’s investigations. Although they were always fascinating, providing views of a Brazil that few of us knew, I’m sure some readers were not happy with the graphic nature of the books. Crime and murder are not pretty. But, with the fourth book, Gage toned down the violence. And, now, with the fifth, A Vine in the Blood, he gives us a police procedural that concentrates on the investigation, not on the graphic nature of murder. Now, he’s able to play up the personalities of the police investigators even more.
The kidnapping of a wealthy woman, Juraci Santos, would normally not bring out the resources of all of the Brazilian Federal Police. But, Juraci Santos was the mother of Tico, “the Artist.” And, with the FIFA World Cup less than two weeks away, it was important that the Artist be happy. Brazil’s success in the World Cup was dependent on Tico. For the first time in sixty years, the country would be hosting the World Cup. No one in the country wanted to lose to Argentina, their bitter rival. If Chief Inspector Mario Silva failed to find the kidnappers, and the Artist was unable to play, or played poorly, the wrath of the country and the government would fall on Silva’s boss, the Director in charge, Nelson Sampaio.
As Federal Police, Silva’s team can work anywhere in the country. Silva’s nephew, Hector Costa, is in charge of the São Paulo office, where the kidnapping occurred. He and his team investigated the scene of the crime, where Juraci Santos was kidnapped and two young maids, sisters, were killed. They did the initial work on a case that took strange turns. As the entire nation watched, the case involved the football world, a model with a great deal of klout, organized crime, samba schools, an honest judge, and a private investigator. Mario Silva never had a case in which the entire nation had a vested interest.
Crime always involves politics in Leighton Gage’s Brazil, and A Vine in the Blood is no exception. There’s constant pressure and media attention on this case. But, this case allows Gage to focus some of the attention on the investigators, from Silva with his alcoholic wife, to “Babyface” Gonçalves, the attractive officer who looks much younger than his years, to Arnaldo Nunes and Mara Carta, who constantly bicker. For the first time, Gage’s crime novel reminds me of one of the best, Ed McBain and his cops of the 87th Precinct.
It’s been fascinating to watch the changes in Leighton Gage’s writing. He’s still the master of Brazil crime novels. He still brings to life the passions and interests of the country. Last year, with Every Bitter Thing, he put more emphasis on the Federal Police and less on the brutality of the crimes. A Vine in the Blood continues that progression, combining the best of the international crime novel with the personalities and stories of the best police procedurals.
Leighton Gage’s website is www.leightongage.com
A Vine in the Blood by Leighton Gage. Soho Press, ©2011. ISBN 9781616950040 (hardcover), 289p.
FTC Full Disclosure – The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.