Previous reviews are at Mack Pitches Up

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Alone in the Crowd by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza

Picador/Macmillan, 2010, 225 pages.
Alone in the Crowd will be available from Picador 25 May 2010. This review is based on a copy of the book I received from the publisher.
It was copyrighted by the author in 2007.
Translated by Benjamin Moser

This book is one of my entries in the 2010 Global Reading Challenge.

UPDATE: Jose Ignacio Escribano has a link on his blog, The Game is afoot, to an interview with Garcia-Roza. While you are there, add Jose's excellent blog to your feed reader.

I'm always looking for a new author or series in the crime fiction genre that will capture my loyalty to the point where I want to read everything the author writes. That's how I felt shortly after starting Garcia-Roza's Alone in the Crowd. This is the seventh in the Chief Inspector Espinosa series set in the Copacabana Rio borough of Rio de Janeiro. Brazil. I normally want to read a series from the beginning for continuity but I don't feel that the previous six books were needed to follow the story.

Alone in the Crowd is a police procedural. Laureta Sales Ribeiro, an elderly, widowed pensioner, is struck and killed by a bus near Chief Espinosa's Twelfth Precinct in Copacabana. If she hadn't been to the station seeking to speak to the chief half an hour before her death it might have been written off as an accident but there is a vague suggestion from those standing on the corner with her that she had been pushed. Vague or not, that plus her visit to the precinct house is enough for Espinosa and his detectives to open an investigation.

Part of the pleasure of procedurals is watching the detectives collect facts, build time-lines, look for linkages, and connect the dots. When one person emerges as a common element their investigations shifts direction to one of finding proof. As they get closer to their person of interest, Hugo Breno, the story takes a psychological turn with the suspect subtly playing the detectives and Espinosa playing the suspect. The contest between the two men takes a sinister aspect when Esponisa discovers that there is a connection between him an Breno, one that takes him back to his boyhood. This is my favorite aspect of the story because of what it reveals about the way Esponisa thinks, how he interprets behavior, how he analyzes motivations. There is a parallel story involving Espinosa, his lover Irene, and her friend and possible lover, Vânia that further shows that Espinosa has an acute understanding of they way people think and act.

The setting of the book also contributed to my enjoyment. It is a pleasure when an author is able to convey a feeling of place. I know they have been successful when I find myself Googling the place names and pulling up Google maps. I'm embarrassed to say that if I thought about Copacabana or Ipanema at all it was probably the songs that came to mind. Now I actually have a sense of where they are when the author has characters walking down the Rua Barata Ribeiro or the Avenida Copacabana.

I highly recommend Alone in the Crowd to readers who enjoy police procedurals that focus on psychological maneuvering and understanding of character. The story flows easily and the characters are well formed and Garcia-Roza brings in their personal lives in a way that makes you want to learn more about them.