By Patrícia Melo
A succinct noir thriller from a talented writer, this book. It was not what I would call ‘tight’: the plot occasionally became tangential. Although Melo used these digressions for important character development work, I think that can be achieved at the same time as relentless action. Instead, Melo opted for an almost leisurely pace, a road trip more than a chase. That’s not to say that there is no chase. Her novel contains plenty of action and adrenaline. And she’s brilliant at creating a sense of claustrophobia felt by a fugitive: freedom is his (for now), but there are people after him. The great thrill of this novel is that you hope he gets to achieve his objective before his pursuers catch up with him. Even though he is in many ways the moral baddie, you want the protagonist to succeed. That might be because he’s our narrator, but also because Melo is careful to characterise his opponent (whom the newspapers would describe as the ‘goodie’) as conniving and manipulative and greedy.
Some things I particularly liked include the following. First, the feeling of being on the road – that’s mostly because our man is being chased and is chasing someone else himself. Second, one of the least likely accomplices in noir fiction: a mangy, sick and rather useless dog, who humanises our fugitive and becomes a central character in his own right. Third, the narrator’s voice is clipped and full of character, but does not resort to cliché. As with all good noir, the ending is particularly significant and filled with moral uncertainties. Melo has done a fine job – and what a thrill to read a noir novel set in Brazil and Bolivia, too!