This 1996 Brazilian bestseller introduces a crime that isn’t a crime and a detective who doesn’t quite seem like a detective either. Inspector Espinosa, of Rio de Janeiro’s First Precinct, likes classic American fiction, collects gift editions, and has a quiet eye for the ladies involved in the death of mineral-exploration executive Dr. Ricardo Carvalho, who left his office at the end of the day and was shot before he could pull out of the parking garage. If it’s hard for Espinosa to wax enthusiastic over any of the murder suspects—renowned designer Bia Vasconcelos, Carvalho’s glamorous widow; her masterful father, still disapproving of his son-in-law; her friend Júlio de Azevedo, architect and professor; Júlio’s lover Alba Antunes, part owner of an Ipanema gym—there’s an excellent reason: Carvalho committed suicide and left behind a letter offering the police $20,000 to pronounce the case unsolved. The shooting looks like murder only because the letter, the gun, and, of course, the $20,000 have disappeared, soon followed by Carvalho’s devoted secretary, Rose Benevides. The case assumes new urgency when Rose’s mother is tortured and strangled (no doubt about whether she’s been murdered), but even then, Espinosa, who doesn’t let grass grow under his feet—he’s soon taken Alba’s well-toned body to bed—is still more in the dark than his readers.
Garcia-Roza’s Hitchcockian trick of knowing exactly how much to reveal to keep his audience off-balance keeps this melancholic debut simmering. First of a most-welcome trilogy.