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by Leighton Gage
Soho , January 2010
274 pages
ISBN: 1569476136

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Leighton Gage has created a criminal profile of Brazil in his Chief Inspector Mario Silva series, portraying a nation that is beset by corruption, greed, extreme poverty, and violence. In the third volume of the series, following BLOOD OF THE WICKED and BURIED STRANGERS, Chief Inspector Mario Silva of the federal police is instructed by his boss to search for a missing girl. It's not a federal case, but the girl happens to be the granddaughter of a politician who holds the purse strings for the department's budget. Though the investigation begins with a political favor, Silva is an honest cop, and he has assembled a small team of men with integrity who can help him tackle a case that will inevitably be hampered by local police who serve themselves and protect criminals.

The reader is privy to much more information about the missing girl than are the investigators. The book opens in Amsterdam, where a train explosion has spread mail across the landscape like tattered confetti. A dutiful postal official, trying to trace the origin of a DVD, is sickened when he realizes he's watching a snuff film. As Dutch officials launch an investigation into the film's Brazilian source, we learn that Marta, the missing girl, has fallen into the hands of a ruthless prostitution ring whose leaders scoff at her claims that she's the daughter of an important man. To them, she's just another runaway, and a virgin at that. She'll be worth a lot to a discerning customer—but when she puts up fierce resistance, they change their plans.

Gage creates vivid characters, from a priest who stands up against corruption and lives in poverty, his only luxury a local liquor made from sugarcane, to the Goat, a pimp who was raised by prostitutes in a shack on stilts over polluted sludge where the poor of Manaus live. Though the portrait of the capital of Amazonas State is vivid, Gage's Brazil is not a nice place to visit, let alone to live in. Though they don't offer a promising destination for those looking for escapist entertainment, there's a brutal integrity to these stories, coupled with compelling plots and a protagonist who believes in justice and does his best against hopeless odds.

Soho is to be commended for taking an independent course in an industry too prone to take the road most traveled. In addition to publishing literary fiction - Haitian author Edwidge Danticat was one of their notable discoveries – their distinctive line of mysteries expand readers' knowledge of the world. The founder of Soho Press, Laura Chapman Hruska, died this January, just as this book was hitting the shelves. Crime fiction readers owe her a debt of gratitude for starting a publishing house that continues to broaden our horizons.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, January 2010

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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