Psychopathology, Carioca style: well-paced but troubling thriller by Brazilian novelist/lawyer Montes.
“He didn’t want to come across as sick or a psycho”: Hannibal Lecter he’s not, not yet, but when we learn that the only person medical student Teo Avelar likes is his dissecting corpse, Gertrude, who, “in the pale light…took on a very peculiar brownish hue, like leather,” well, we’re sure that bad things are about to ensue. Teo lives with his crippled mother and her dog in a Rio walkup, scarred by unhappy memories. A vegetarian, nondrinker, and otherwise abstemious chap, Teo nonetheless finds himself at a party, where he is smitten by the tiny but overflowingly confident Clarice—her name not just that of a Brazilian novelist (“For God’s sake,” our Clarice yells, “don’t talk to me about Clarice Lispector, because I’ve never read anything by her!”), but also that of Hannibal Lecter’s bête noire, Clarice Starling. Accident? It wouldn’t seem so, any more than the poor dog’s passing is, and certainly not when Teo kidnaps Clarice, trusting that one day she’ll love him as much as he loves her. Their interaction is ugly and violent, and it’s not entirely believable that Clarice is able to turn the tables—and then Teo, and then Clarice, until the game of cat and mouse seems more like cat and cat. The suggestion that Clarice is complicit in her own captivity is both daring and controversial; John Fowles did it neatly in The Collector, but half a century on, Montes handles the question somewhat less deftly, and in any event, the characters seem incomplete, their motivations not quite clear save that Teo has a Norman Bates–ian sensitivity to matters maternal. The ending in particular lies on the very border of good and bad taste, but Montes gets points for neatly—and appallingly—connecting it to the opening of his narrative, ironic title and all, in a most unpleasant full circle.
Readers of Thomas Harris and Henning Mankell may feel that they’ve been here before, but a fast and fluent read all the same.