Translated from Portuguese by Benjamin Moser
Published by Picador, 2002, 256 pages. Original version published in 1996.
Ricardo Carvalho, a well-to-do executive, gets into his car in a multistoried car park in Rio de Janeiro, smokes a cigarette and then shoots himself. He leaves behind a gun, a briefcase, 20,000 dollars and a note to the police.
The note says that Ricardo wants the policeman who finds his body to make it look like a murder, and the 20,000 dollars is left as a bribe. This is because, if his death is ruled as a suicide, Ricardo’s wife Bia will not be able to collect the 20 million dollars in life insurance.
But things do not go the way Ricardo had planned. The suicide is witnessed by Max, a small-time criminal, a man who holds people up with a toy revolver. Seeing an opportunity, Max takes the gun, money, briefcase, and the note. When Ricardo’s body is found and there is no sign of a weapon, the police treat it as a murder.
Inspector Espinosa is put in charge of the case. Something about the case does not feel right to him, and his interviews with Ricardo’s colleagues and wife lead nowhere.
Then Ricardo’s secretary Rose—who knows more about him than anyone else—disappears. Things start to get worse: people connected to this case are being murdered, and someone is stalking Bia.
This is not one of the best crime novels I’ve read. I guessed who the murderer was about three-fourths into the book. I also became exasperated with Espinosa’s crushes on two of the women involved in the case.
The story moves from third-person narrative—mostly from Espinosa’s point of view, and then from Max and Rose’s—to first person before moving back to the third. I did not really understand the need for the first-person narrative: it took me a couple of paragraphs to work out who the narrator was.
That said, it’s a quick read, and the climax is startling, to say the least. Not all the loose ends are tied up. There are a few things that Espinosa does not understand, and something that is central to the plot is hinted at but not explained. Which is not a bad thing.
I enjoyed reading a whodunit set in Rio, a first for me!
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