The above illustration, "Blowing Bubbles," has been adapted for use here by generous permission from the artist, Cyril Rolando.

December 26, 2011

A VINE IN THE BLOOD by Leighton Gage

In the wake of the recent kidnapping of a major-league baseball player in Colombia, comes this timely mystery -- only I read the ebook last spring, so maybe 'timely' is the wrong word; perhaps I should have said 'prescient.'

Brazil's (and the world's) finest football player loves his mother very much. When she's kidnapped, he's more than ready to pay the ransom. Problem is, the kidnapping occurs just prior to the beginning of World Cup play. Could this be the work of rival countries hoping to destroy Brazil's chances of winning? Could the mind behind it be the player's own fiancee, a beauty with grasping hands and a heart of "cold"? Could the mastermind be the team owner, who desperately needs money? Or the mobster who wants to crush the team owner? The servants? The imprisoned criminologist who moonlighted as a kidnapper? The kidnap and ransom plans were designed by someone who has carefully planned each step, every tiny detail. Except one, and that single misstep leads to double murder.

It's always a treat when Mario Silva's team of federal investigators work a case. The characters are defined mostly by their dialogue, something that was more common among mystery writers of old (Erle Stanley Gardner, for example, and the great Dashiell Hammett), and author Gage makes that dialogue sparkle. While the repartee among the investigators, or between the investigators and the witnesses/suspects entertains the reader and furthers the story, it also does much to reveal the characters' underlying natures. From 'Baby Face' Goncalves to (my favorite) Silva's aide, Arnaldo Nunes, from incidental characters like shop clerks and park rangers to major players like the football star's fiancee and the criminologist, each character is so well-defined by his dialogue that physical descriptions are rendered almost unnecessary.

The story, as with all of the books in this series, moves along at gallop. I love that the author, while allowing his team to make use of forensics, never lets the story's pace or tension droop due to technical or scientific explanations. Forensics support the story; forensics are NOT the story, praise be! And Mario Silva and his team don't let any grass grow under their feet, but at the same time, each of them seems very human. No superheroes here, just cops getting the job done, cops with wit and personality.

With each book I also have the pleasure of learning more about Brazil. Gage does a great job of weaving this information so tightly into the threads of the story that it never feels pedantic or confusing, but is a fascinating and fundamental part of the story. If you haven't tried this series yet, it's okay to start here, with this book, because these books are easily read out of order. But read them, yes, I urge you. Read them now; thank me later.

On sale: 12/27/2011

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