The dog in the picture does not belong to me. Our current set of dogs are small to medium size.
It is a dog that sets the stage for BURIED STRANGERS. The picture is large to show that bodies were not so much buried as discarded. Burial is an act of respect; some aren’t even accorded that.
Hans claimed he spent half his working life chasing after his employer’s dog, Herbert, an old-English sheepdog generally referred to as The Mop. The Mop always found ways of escaping from his fenced in home and Hans always had the responsibility of finding him. One day, Hans finds The Mop with a large bone in his mouth; Hans thought it was the bone of a cow until he saw the skull. The police are called and the scientific investigators find the grave of a woman, an event disturbing enough. Then “…the sun crept over the encircling rim of forest. Long shadows fell across the field, emphasizing irregularities in the carpet of green. In the altered light, row upon row of rectangular mounds suddenly became visible….Graves. Tens of graves, lined up row-on-row….The Mop…hadn’t just found himself one corpse to play with. He’d found himself an entire cemetery.”
Chief Inspector Mario Silva and his team are investigators for the federal police in Brazil. Although based in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, most of the action takes place in Sao Paulo. When Silva and his team arrive in Sao Paulo, they meet Delegado Yoshiro Tanaka, a man whose rank could save him from the more horrifying aspects of a crime. But Tanaka likes getting the feel of a crime that only came with being at the crime scene. And Tanaka,”…takes a personal interest in the murders that occur in his district.”
The usual experts are called in. Two or three people were buried in each grave and DNA proves they are related. There isn’t an obvious cause of death. The bodies are too recently buried to be those of the “disappeared”, the people who too vocally criticized a previous government in power. There seem to be too many bodies to be the work of a serial killer. Perhaps the victims were killed in a cult ritual. There are too many bodies and too few reasonable conclusions to suggest that this is not going to be a long and difficult investigation.
That is until Ernesto and Clarice Portella tell Tanaka about their friends who have disappeared. The Portellas and the Lisboas were neighbors on a favela, one of the desperately poor slums in the city. Clarice Portella explains to Tanaka that the family, Edmar, Augusta and their two daughters, had moved away when Edmar was offered a job, a job that even provided a home for the family. The Portellas had helped the Lisboas load the moving truck with their furniture. Augusta had given Clarice her new address. The girls had exchanged addresses with their friends. Then the letters were returned. It was when Clarice saw Augusta’s furniture, the same furniture that she had helped load onto the moving truck, in a second-hand store that she knew she needed to tell the police.
Silva becomes aware of another group of disappearing Brazilians when his maid tells him that her son paid $5000.00 to a travel agent who promised to get him a visa and the tickets necessary for him to emigrate to Boston. His mother received a postcard from him but the picture was of South Beach in Miami. When Silva encourages her to wait a couple of weeks until her son is settled before she starts worrying, she tells him the boy has been gone two months. Silva realizes that someone is stealing the young of Brazil.
As with BLOOD OF THE WICKED, the author creates an atmosphere and sense of place by the descriptions of the unimaginable poverty of a favela, the neighborhoods of the destitute, and the lavish, protected mansions of those who need not answer for the source of their affluence. Leighton Gage is a master of detail and each detail contributes to the story. Every word has a purpose.
The author builds the story on some of the greatest accomplishments of medical science while creating some characters who have sold their souls to satisfy their greed and for whom nothing is too depraved. That the author does not keep the reader in the dark throughout the novel only makes the end more satisfying.
Chief Inspector Silva is a worthy member of the club that includes Garcia-Roza’s Espinosa, Mankell’s Wallender, Grimes’ Jury, Wilson’s Falcon, Vargus’ Adamsburg, and Rankin’s Rebus.