World Crime Atlas: Brazil

The Body Snatcher, by Patricia Malo.

Plot: “A tale of drug-dealing gone wrong, police corruption, and a macabre blackmail.” It starts with the (unnamed) narrator witnessing a small plane crashing into the Paraguay River. In the cockpit, together with the dead pilot, he finds a kilo of cocaine, which he pockets along with the pilot’s backpack and expensive watch. “Thus begins the protagonist’s long slide into corruption” with a Bolivian drug gang, the wealthy family of the pilot, the narrator’s morgue-attendant girlfriend, and a kidnapped cadaver involved along the way.

Where: The small town of Corumba, on the Brazilian lowlands bordering Bolivia.

The detectives: This isn’t really a police procedural, so the cops are on the periphery until the final twists in the plot.

Sense of Place: “The sun reigned over everything without pity.” That early sentence sums up an untamed and heat-blasted landscape; “the sky blue, the ground steaming, and people trying to flee the furnace.”

With such extreme heat, decay (especially in the police morgue) is never far away: “Everything in this city rots more quickly.”

We are allowed one glimpse of a potential Eden: “We’ve got everything,” one character says: “we’ve got forests, we’ve got pastures, we’ve got clear fields, we’ve got the most beautiful birds you can imagine.”

But heat and decay are drawn together in one vivid image late in the book: “The beggar was sleeping on a steaming tombstone, the sun hitting him in the face…We walked down the fetid passageways of the cemetery.”

Perhaps there is hope, however, in this last reference to the climate: “The sun was setting and a pleasant breeze was blowing in our direction.”

Worth reading? Yes. Once the plot is under way, it is Hitchcock-like in its remorseless inevitability, with sharp dialogue and taut writing.

World Crime Atlas is my retirement project to read a crime novel set in every country in The Times Atlas of the World.

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