I was saddened to learn of the death of Leighton Gage last week. After I posted an enthusiastic review of his first novel, BLOOD OF THE WICKED, here a few years ago Leighton contacted me to say thank you and we corresponded occasionally thereafter. A favourite topic was our respective travels, I didn’t have to sell him on Australia as he’d lived here for a time but he was keen to convince me that South America needed to be on my radar. I once semi-joked about still not knowing what I want to be when I grow up despite being in my 40’s, and he reminded me he’d only published his first novel at the age of 66 so I had plenty of time. From this correspondence, his novels and the blog he founded and co-hosted with crime writers from across the globe I learned that in addition to being a terrific writer Leighton Gage was a true gentleman, had a generous spirit and a love of life that you might not expect from someone whose books depict such bleakness as his do.
His death reminded me starkly that after having read the first two novels to feature Chief Inspector Mario Silva of the Brazilian Federal Police I have not kept up with his series, despite owning them all and being blown away by both of those that I’d read. So as my personal tribute to Leighton Gage I charged up my neglected eReader and snuggled near the heater on a miserable winter’s day with DYING GASP, the third instalment of the series. I barely moved a muscle over the next few hours as I devoured the deeply harrowing story about the string of bad luck, poor parenting, corruption and depravity that combine to ensure a young girl goes missing and stays that way. Gage had a way of making his readers desperate to find out what would happen next while at the same nearly being overcome with a desire to obliterate the words from the page. As if to do so could prevent the sadness they depict (and the real-life facts which always inspired Gage’s stories) from ever having existed.
When asked to look into the disappearance of the granddaughter of a local bigwig Mario Silva is reluctant because all indications are that she’s probably a runaway. But he can’t afford to neglect the wishes of the powerful politician and so he starts the normal processes. When a stroke of luck on another continent ends up offering a link to a truly hideous crime…and a vicious criminal who Silva has encountered before…the investigation gets very serious.
The story that follows is of the grimmest kind. Human life isn’t valued highly by most of the people portrayed and those same people use whatever power they can command within their respective spheres of influence to abuse and demean anyone they can find. But amidst this anger-inducing corruption and depravity stride Mario Silva and his fellow investigators Arnaldo and Hector (who is also Silva’s nephew). They’re not above breaking some rules themselves but at least when they do it their motivation is not self-interest. There is a real sense that they have to use some of the same tactics as the corrupt people they’re up against from both sides of the law to even have a chance of levelling the playing field.
As always, the location leaps off the page and demands attention. There’s the physicality of course, the heat and humidity especially, but there’s also the complex society which defies being neatly labelled. Without judging or preaching or making excuses Gage depicts the full gamut of human awfulness from the truly evil to the opportunistically so to those forced that way by circumstance. There’s not a nice, linear thread indicating where a better outcome might have been reached if only one element had been a little different: there are faults a-plenty and some of them stretch back decades.
Although it is violent and very, very sad the book manages to stop short of complete bleakness through its inclusion of a few brave souls who offer hope (bless them) and some well-placed humorous moments. The dialogue between Silva and his old friend Arnaldo is a particular treat. I also think the fact that the investigation is solved largely due to perseverance and a good dose of dumb luck helps to give the book some lighter tones. There’s no super-human detective with unnatural powers of observation or confession-inducement here…just some guys who are clever enough to act when they realise someone’s made a mistake. I have my suspicions that most real crimes are solved this way too.
The book is not for the feint-hearted: the violence is confronting. But it is not gratuitous and it is not dwelt upon. And if you can cope with it then the book is a rewarding read, unlikely to leave many readers with any sort of neutral feeling about the events it depicts. DYING GASP is in the tradition of great crime fiction which tells a ripping yarn while exposing a community’s underbelly in an all-too-believable way.
I am saddened at the death of Leighton Gage but I take some small comfort from the fact he lived long enough to publish a total of seven novels set in his adopted Brazil (with a rumoured eight novel to be published posthumously next year). If this one and its two predecessors are representative I still have some wonderful reading experiences ahead.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Publisher Soho Crime 
Length 213 pages
Format eBook (ePub)
Book Series #3 in the Mario Silva series
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