Monday, February 18, 2013

Perfect Hatred

Leighton Gage has carved a nice niche for himself with his Chief Inspector Mario Silva series of mysteries set in Brazil. Gage knows how to use Brazil’s exotic beauty to his benefit, deftly juxtaposing it with extremes of wealth and poverty and corruption at all levels. The public officials and politicians who aren’t corrupt are as venal as their peers anywhere else. Gage’s gift is an ability to expose and explore all Brazil has to offer to a writer of crime fiction, while allowing the love of his adopted country to live in every line.

The United States has no equivalent of the Brazilian Federal Police. Their jurisdiction is nation-wide, and supersedes local authority. This allows them to open investigations on their own initiative, and gives Gage carte blanche with his plots, as there is no crime in Brazil in which the federals may not take an interest.

His newest book, Perfect Hatred, allows Gage to take full advantage of the breadth of the Brazilian federal police, Silva’s skills, and the devotion his team has for each other. The book begins with a horrific terrorist bombing; the bomb in a baby carriage, its intent disguised by the bomber’s use of a real baby to cover the explosive. In a province hundreds of miles away, a popular political candidate is shot to death at a televised campaign appearance, on the eve of defeating the incumbent. Silva’s team is split between the two and he is tasked with focusing on the assassination when his instinct is to concentrate on the bombing, as there is reason to believe this was not an isolated incident.

As if Silva isn’t busy enough, a high-ranking criminal who is about to go away forever has sworn vengeance on the prosecutor and cop who put him there; the cop is Silva.

Laid out like that, the book sounds like a hare-brained modern thriller, where the stakes are continuously raised and bodies pile up. (“Now it’s personal.”) This would likely be the case in the hands of a lesser writer. Gage has bigger plans, and better chops. The situation teeters on the brink of becoming out of control; Silva never does. He may be frustrated, angry, and even scared, but he’s the right man at the right time. He has personal problems and ghosts that affect him, but he’s not the stereotypical tormented series protagonist. He’s a good man under intense pressure from multiple sides, and he handles the situation with grace and as much humanity as he can muster. Not perfect and not always on time to be a savior, he’s the glue that holds everything in Gage’s fictional universe together. If his squad is the Brazilian equivalent of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct (the analogy that comes most often to mind), Silva is Gage’s Steve Carella.

The writing is perfect for the story, as it always is. Gage is of the school where the writer’s goal is to be as unobtrusive as possible, where he scored highest marks. Nothing will jump out at a first time reader, though those who have several Silva stories under their belts will start to recognize subtle touches that are Gage’s own. He understands suspense is the building of tension and violence is the release of at least some of it. He also trusts his situation, characters, and talent not to beat you over the head with how bad things are. If you don’t feel it on your own, you’re reading the wrong books.

Perfect Hatred may well be the best of an excellent series that gets better book by book. It is not to be missed.

No comments: