“The concept of sin is alien to Marxism, but not to liberation theologians. To them, not overthrowing the ruling class, not fighting to redistribute wealth is a sin, a sin of the gravest nature, perhaps the gravest of all.”
Blood of the Wicked is the first novel to feature Mario Silva, Chief Inspector for Criminal Matters of the Federal Police of Brazil. After reading Leighton Gage’s phenomenal second novel Buried Strangers last month, I decided to order a copy of his first novel, and I was not disappointed. The novel begins with the arrival of the Bishop of Presidente Vargas, Dom Felipe Antunes in the agricultural town of Cascatas do Pontal. Following the Bishop’s assassination, Silva is sent to the interior to solve the high-profile crime.
Silva soon discovers that the town is an explosive hotbed of political activity. The Landless Workers’ League, is in a bitter dispute with local wealthy landowners, and members of the league are squatting on uncultivated land attempting to force the Brazilian government to enforce its own laws. But “more than 1500” members of the league have been murdered over the past decade, and tensions are high:
“The Brazilian government had a constitutional obligation to appropriate untitled land and distribute it to the landless. In practice, however, local politicians and a corrupt judiciary were almost always successful at blocking any attempt to break up the great estates.”
Silva arrives in Cascatas do Pontal slapbang in the middle of an unacknowledged civil war waged between the Landless Workers’ League and the landowners. Aurelio Azevedo, a popular member of the Landless Workers’ League was recently brutally murdered–along with his entire family, and it seems as though Orlando Muniz Junior is the number 1 suspect for the crimes. But as the son of the most powerful landowner in the area (the Muniz estates are “half the size of Denmark”), Muniz and his son are above the law. While Silva and his nephew Hector attempt to solve the Bishop’s assassination, they are sucked into a cesspool of crime, and the sadistic Colonel Ferraz, in charge of the town’s police battalion has his own reasons for hindering the investigation. As the body count rises, the pressures mount to solve the crimes–especially since Silva’s boss notes that ever since Silva arrived in town “things have been getting worse.”
Blood of the Wicked explores Mario Silva’s background and his reasons for abandoning a legal career to pursue his future in the Federal Police. This background information provides insight into Silva’s character–his methodical approach to crime and his infinite patience and dogged determination. The novel explores Liberation Theology and also examines the idea that peaceful protest will eventually morph into violence if violence is used against protestors for whom there are no legal avenues for protection, self-defense, and justice.
Blood of the Wicked is really a terrific chilling read–inevitably a bit grim and bloody at times–with those in power exploiting the powerless in unimaginable ways. This is a country in which the dehumanized poor who live in shantytowns without toilets make just enough to eat by cleaning the toilets of the stinking rich. If you–like me–enjoy Brazilian crime novels, then add Leighton Gage’s name to the list of must-read authors.