The Silence of the Rain by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza
Translated by Benjamin Moser
Picador, 2003. First published in Brazil, 1998.
I like mysteries in which the reader knows more than the detective, as one can see how the deductive reasoning takes place. In The Silence of the Rain, a successful, fairly young businessman gets into his car after a day at work, and shoots himself. When the body is found and reported by the parking garage attendant, however, the police treat the case as a murder because the man’s briefcase containing, among other crucial things, a note of explanation, is missing.
The premise is fascinating, and the chief investigator, Inspector Espinosa, is a great character. He is a bit of a world-weary cynic, as is necessary for a public official living in Rio de Janeiro, a huge city depicted with vigour and affection, which is host to the widest range of income levels and activities imaginable. The main characters in the case are drawn vividly – mainly the inspector himself and the two principal women concerned, Bia, the widow of the deceased, and Alba, girlfriend of Julio. Julio is a lecturer at the university who has eyes on Bia, who is both very rich and very cultured. He’s flirting with her in an upmarket kind of a way as the novel opens, as both of them have been on the same panel in a cultural debate. Julio is somewhat patronising towards Alba, his “official” girlfriend, as she is part-owner of a gym and he doesn’t consider her to be very intellectual. Bia, he thinks, seems much more his level.
Espinosa meets all these characters, and is very taken with both women. In fact, he spends most of the novel torn between them, although one of them makes herself more available than the other. He is determined to find the perpetrator of the crime, though the reader knows, unlike him, that the crime he is investigating is not the one he thinks he is.
There is a lot to like about this book. The atmosphere and characterisation is very good indeed, transporting the reader to Rio de Janerio and showing pretty accurately (if my experience in Caracas, Venezuela, is anything to go by) what life is like for the have-nots as well as for the haves. There are some neat plot twists that kept me glued to the page. Although I found the inherent sexism a bit hard to take, it’s a convincing representation of how certain people think – even so, Espinosa’s oscillating attitude to the two women in the book made me lose sympathy with him, somewhat. He also seems pretty incompetent, letting suspects go on the basis that they won’t abscond (then they do), or opening himself and his companion up to danger unnecessarily. Eventually, he twigs part of what is going on, and the reader is in a familiar race against time.
Unfortunately, the denouement is not convincing, to say the least – the book seems to run out of steam when a climactic event occurs about 50 pages towards the end, and there are some glaring holes in the plot. Nevertheless, it is well written and, it seems, superbly translated. I enjoyed reading it very much, despite the various flaws, and will probably read the second book to feature this rather intriguing detective, who is an appealing character despite, or perhaps because of, his all-too-human errors on professional and personal matters.
Other reviews of this book are at Mysteries in Paradise (Kerrie), whose review stimulated me to buy the novel; The View from the Blue House (Rob Kitchin); San Francisco Chronicle, whose review is titled "Unusual sanity among Rio's chaos: bookish cop wends his way through murders in Brazil". Quote from the review: "This policeman, with his existential sensibility, his exotic beat and his literary merit, seems poised to join the ranks of the great modern international fictional cops such as Sjowall and Wahloo's Martin Beck and Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander; the policeman with the philosopher's name who confesses: "I'd rather not have to fill out useless forms or write reports as an expression of police incompetence. I'd rather, when I meet a pretty woman, not have to start out with the ominous line: 'I'm Inspector Espinosa from the First Precinct.' " "