Jonas Palhares is sure that he is living in the safest place he could possibly find. After trying some other areas of Rio, Jonas settled on an apartment near the beaches, the beaches to which tourists flocked. Increased police presence and a building with a doorman who would never let anyone in without the permission of a resident, makes Jonas feel very safe. It also makes him careless. When his doorbell rings, Jonas believes it is his girlfriend. It isn’t and Jonas dies.
When Juan Rivas, the son of the foreign minister of Venezuela, is killed, the problem created by the killing becomes a problem for Mario Silva and his team. The problem in the Rivas killing is the sexual orientation of the victim. It is a problem for Silva because, although the method of killing Rivas is the same as that used in the Palhares murder, Palhares wasn’t gay. Jorge Rivas wants the killer of his son found now, and when a detective, not one of Silva’s, abruptly announces that he has solved the case in minutes, Silva realizes that the detective is an idiot. The suspect is an older man who lives one floor below Juan. This suspect also has an on going relationship with Jorge Rivas; neither father nor son were aware of the other’s sexual proclivities. The Clown, the term Silva uses to identify the leader of Venezuela, is homophobic and Rivas Senior would find himself in a very bad place if The Clown is made aware of the private lives of the Rivas men. Both Jorge and Juan maintain relationships with Tomas Garcia. Jorge even owns both apartments. His first priority is to ensure that The Clown doesn’t learn of his sexual orientation. A gay man murdered by his lover would be an easy solution but Mario knows that an easy solution is rarely a correct solution. Mario is a man willing to turn over every rock to see what scuttles into the light of day. Tomas Garcia isn’t under any rock connected to the Rivas family.
What Mario needs is more likely to be found in the files of the police of Brazil than in anyone’s garden. In little time, Silva discovers that there have been three other murders, all similar in execution. Paulo Cruz is the highly successful author of books on sexuality. Victor Neves is an exporter of leather goods. Joao Girotti has spent much of his life as a guest of the state. He is a thug with convictions for armed robbery, burglary, and auto theft. The five men were first shot in the abdomen and then beaten to death with something like a club. What was the connection? The motive wasn’t sexual jealousy between gays because only Rivas fit that category. Four of the men were successful, leading respectable lives. The fifth victim was unlike the others in every possible way. Silva and his team have to start from the beginning and look at the murders from a different perspective.
Information that Joao Girotti had been drinking with a woman who had not been seen in the bar before suggests that he was not a random victim. The two left together minutes before Girotti was found dead in an alley behind the bar. Then, when the police search Neves apartment, they find a book next to his bed. The bookmark is a boarding pass and the details of the flight match exactly the details of the flight Juan Rives had been on shortly before he died.
It is when the police get a copy of the passenger list in business class on Neves flight that the case opens up. Four of the five men were in that section of the plane. One of the other seven could be the killer. Six of the seven could be the next victims. With the passenger list as a guide, the detectives contact the passengers and crew, ferreting out details that could lead to a motive for the killings.
As more people on the list are killed, the author asks us to look at the things we fear the most. We fear the sudden inexplicable death of a loved one. We fear being caught in circumstances over which we have no control. We fear the randomness of societal mores, that moment when we are confronted by a person whose moral code is defined situation by situation, rather than by the laws of conduct that define a civilized society.
Perhaps the bitter thing becomes sweet when we have someone or something to blame for bringing pain and loss into our lives. Does the soul hunger for justice or for retribution? Does either bring peace? The author presents his characters, especially Mario, as people of their time and place. There is corruption in the Brazilian justice and legal systems. Mario is not immune to the possibilities inherent in doing things his way rather than the right or legal way.
Situation ethics was a hotly debated philosophy in the 60’s and 70’s. Joseph Fletcher built his philosophy on the belief that love is the ultimate law. The love Fletcher espouses is that based on St.Paul’s teachings about “agape”, unconditional and unchanging love for all people. According to Fletcher, there are no absolute laws. The laws that govern society evolved in order to achieve the greatest amount of agape. Laws can be broken if to do so increases the amount of pure love in the world. Summed up, situational ethics breaks down to the simple and popular notion that the end justifies the means.
Joseph Fletcher would have loved EVERY BITTER THING. The reader applauds the resolution, comfortable that all good things come to those who wait for the right moment to act in the spirit of agape.
To say that Leighton Gage gets better with each book suggests that the previous books are less than EVERY BITTER THING. They aren’t. Gage has the ability to use the same central characters in the same setting and write different stories as if everything and everyone is new. There is no danger that this series will become stale.