Review: Blood of the Wicked by Leighton Gage

I kicked off my 2011 Global Reading Challenge by visiting South America to meet Chief Inspector Mario Silva of the Brazilian Federal Police.

Bishop Dom Felipe Antunes arrives in the remote Brazilian town of Cascatas do Pontal to consecrate the newly built church of Nossa Senhora dos Milagres and is shot by a sniper the moment he steps from his helicopter. Mario Silva, Chief Inspector for Criminal Matters for the Federal Police is sent to the town to investigate the high-profile death. What he finds is a corrupt local police force with friends in very high places and near-war brewing between wealthy landowners and the farmers who are fighting for the law which says that uncultivated land can be appropriated for genuine farming to be enforced.

Immediately after the dramatic opening we jump to flashbacks of Silva’s early life which sets the tone for the kind of man, and policeman, he will become. We then return to the present where Silva and his nephew Hector Costa who is also a policeman, are behind the eight-ball in a town where people are scared of police (with very good reason). There are rumours that the Bishop was killed for enforcing the Catholic Church’s position not to support priests who espouse liberation theology (in short a radical approach to the redistribution of wealth) but there is little evidence available and no help from the local police.  When the adult son of one of the wealthiest men in the town disappears tensions are raised another notch. Silva is under pressure from constant phone calls from his Director to sort out the mess which is playing badly in the media and also from local activists who are desperate for genuine justice to be implemented in their town.

There is a real sense of the people and the place on display here: both of them vibrant and imperfect. We see a dark side of Brazil, where poverty and injustice prevail, that is not normally associated with the country. The characters meanwhile run the gamut from pure evil to near-saint, sometimes in a single person but all of them are very credible. Silva is a sympathetic protagonist, though not without his personal demons. It is in part through him that the author explores the nature of justice versus law and I can foresee this might be a theme that recurs in this series. And it is through Silva and the interplay between the members of his small team that we see the hints of humour necessary to relieve the tension that the bulk of the book is filled with.

There are books that gently draw you into their orbit and reveal their secrets like the opening of a delicate flower. Blood of the Wicked isn’t one of them. It opens with high drama and keeps you gripped in its clutches with the literary equivalent of g-forces acting on a speedily accelerating object. The writing is dynamic and makes the reader feel like a part of the story. You’re in the helicopter with the Bishop who is deathly afraid of flying in the “great, stinking, steaming merda“, you’re in the room when a woman’s fingers are hacked off one-by-one until her lover tells her torturer what he wants to know and, sadly for this claustrophobic, you’re in the box in a hole in the ground hearing the dirt slowly bury you. Blood of the Wicked is not for the faint-hearted; it is violent and there is a noticeable dearth of happy endings. But it has heart and suspense and most importantly of all, its social commentary and exploration of complex themes superbly integrated into the story rather than preaching at readers as so many books do.

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I am late to the party discovering this excellent series. Blood of the Wicked has been reviewed at Crime ScrapsMysteries in Paradise, The Game’s Afoot and The View from the Blue House.

Leighton Gage, who I shall lobby to make an honorary Australian as he lived here for a few years (and we do tend to appropriate talented people as our own), is one of the crime writers who posts weekly at the excellent blog Murder is Everywhere

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My rating 4.5/5
Author website http://www.leightongage.com/
Publisher Soho Crime [this edition 2010, original edition 2008]
ISBN this eBook edition did not appear to have one
Length 265 pages
Format eBook (ePub)
Book Series Number #1 in the Chief Inspector Mario Silva series
Source Provided free by the author