In Celebration Of Warm Settings – BURIED STRANGERS (Leighton Gage)

It is snowing again.  Only 10 inches this time, not a big deal in northeast snow lore.  We have broken a record.  It  has snowed half of the days in January, 2011.

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.


Leighton Gage’s first book, BLOOD OF THE WICKED, starts with the assassination of a Catholic bishop; from the first pages it is a book that can’t be put down. Gage’s second book, BURIED STRANGERS, begins with a dog and a bone and secret cemeteries. It, too, is a book the reader will not want to put down.

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.

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2 Responses to In Celebration Of Warm Settings – BURIED STRANGERS (Leighton Gage)

  1. Wow, Beth,

    That’s some shot.
    Not my cover.
    The dog in the snow.

    My wife is fascinated by snow, having seen it for the first time, when she was about 23 years old. And then from, far, far away. It was up on the top of a high mountain in Peru, while we were miles away, down in the valley of the Urumbamba.
    One time, a couple of years ago, it finally got up close and personal.
    We got snowed-in during a book tour.
    She thought it was wonderful, stood at the window for hours watching it fall.
    That photo is just the sort of thing she likes to contemplate while suffering through the heat and the rain of a too wet, too warm São Paulo summer.
    And she’s doing so right now.
    Thanks for the breath of dry, cool air.

  2. Beth says:

    Leighton, falling snow is beautiful and lovely and relaxing to watch as the flakes float down. Unfortunately, it stops falling and sticks and stays. With over five feet of snow on the ground and many days ahead of temperatures below freezing, the beautiful snow will turn into piles of snow as solid as concrete. Exhaust from cars will blacken the snow. It is not an exaggeration to say that there will still be small piles of dirty snow along the gutters one third of the way through spring. Of, course, early spring in southern New England is actually late winter. Late spring is more like early summer. Spring is the season we skip.

    The sun is shining, schools are open, and the main roads are passable. Of course, once arrived at a destination, there is no place to park. Grocery stores lose 1/4 of the parking spaces because the snow has to be dumped someplace.

    All big cities in the northeast that have far more cars than they have space. So, in the neighborhoods, a form of folk art develops. Most houses in the cities do not have driveways; residents park on the street in front of their homes. People can spend hours shoveling out their cars only to have them buried again when the plow comes by and pushes all the snow against the cars. (This has to happen at least once in order for people to have the right to complain about local politicians and everyone who drives a plow).

    The purpose of shoveling out the car is the be able to use it. That’s when people get to exercise their creativity. There is a certain honor code in the neighborhoods. A neighbor’s parking space is sacrosanct but outsiders have to be warned off. So various pieces of old furniture, trash cans, or planks of wood are piled into the space when the car is moved. One of the most common parking space still life studies is a kitchen car, placed in the middle, propping up brooms in case anyone thinks that the space to either side of the chair is a free zone.

    Do fights break out? Oh, yes. Police are called and then the tragic aspect of the story is introduced. There is an ordinance that stipulates that streets are public property and no one has the right to a saved space. It is important that children and those with delicate sensibilities not be in the area when the shoveler is told it has all been for naught.

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