Tag Archives: drug trade

The Body Snatcher: Patrícia Melo

We think the devil comes in the back door, that he comes in with your enemies, but the truth is that we ourselves open the door to him the moment we trust someone.”

In The Body Snatcher, from Brazilian author Patrícia Melo, a tale of drug trafficking, police corruption, and blackmail, an unemployed former telemarketing manager who worked “in a boiler room in São Paulo”  has retreated to the rural area of Corumbá near the Bolivian border. It’s hard to imagine the pinnacle of your professional career trapped in a boiler room but that’s life for our narrator. After leaving São Paulo, he lived with his cousin, a mechanic, until he started lusting after his cousin’s woman. He moved on yet again, and now, when the novel opens, he rents a room from the son of the chief of the Guató tribe and spends his days loafing around. He has a girlfriend, Sulamita who works for the police initially as an administrative assistant and then, during the course of the novel, she becomes head of a morgue. One day the narrator goes fishing and witnesses a small private aircraft crashing into the Paraguay River. He tries to rescue the pilot, but the young man dies at the scene. Also in the plane is a kilo of cocaine, and for the narrator, it’s just too good an opportunity to pass up….

The Body SnatcherWith a kilo of coke to his name and no job, the narrator places his toe into the local drug trade and this soon escalates into full-blown trafficking. When things go wrong, the narrator finds himself in debt to Bolivian drug-dealer Ramirez. The book does an excellent job of showing how one bad decision leads to freefall.

You rob a cadaver. You hire some loser of an Indian to sell the blow you stole off the corpse. You fuck your cousin’s wife. You do that because you believe you can make a mistake, just one, just one more, and another, just one more little screw-up, and then return and go on with your path, your film, because the course of life continues there, static, waiting for you to screw up and return later.

With a lack of options, the narrator decides to approach the wealthy family of the dead pilot. It’s a macabre interest which would appear to be founded in some sort of guilt–although ultimately, guilt never really comes into play here. It’s puerile interest combined with self-preservation.

When you commit a crime like this the problem isn’t the others. Much less the reality. The evidence. The problem is you yourself. The slip-up you make when you’re asked a question. The imperfect actions. Your inappropriate reaction in a given situation. Not to mention the urge to confess that arises time and time again.

This novel is a slow burn read with the narrative gathering speed and sticking power as the narrator, nicknamed Porco by Ramirez, slides deeper into irreversible actions. The narrator has a linguistic tic of adding the word “over” to many of his thoughts. The linguistic tic, which isn’t guilt but a combination of common sense & justification, is finally explained at around the half way point:

You’re being stupid, over. That’s what my internal radio, which it was no longer possible to turn off, was saying. I would think and my private interlocutor, over, would counter, always trying to show me I was wrong, that goodness, over, like god, was a fantasy, that man was born bad and gets worse with time, and that I should forge ahead with my diabolical plan.

The Body Snatcher conveys the stinging, harsh bitter sense of the desperate side of Brazilian culture by positioning the lives of the extremely wealthy against the life of the dispossessed narrator who thinks a kilo of coke is the answer to his prayers, but instead it just opens the doors to more complications. Grabbing the coke, the narrator’s act of seemingly benign self-interest morphs into evil. As the narrator explains, “we are born with evil ensconced in us like a dormant virus only waiting for the moment to emerge.” While the narrator plays with the idea of guilt and conscience the author makes it clear that neither exist–or can afford to exist–in this tale of the baseness of human behaviour.  Instead of guilt or conscience, the fear of being caught dominates the narrator’s actions, and the author allows the narrator to play with a sense of regret at having to behave this way while showing his callousness. What’s so interesting is the permeation throughout society of bad behaviour from the brutal, vicious drug dealer, Ramirez to the man who beats his pregnant wife. Everyone is pitted, in some fashion, in a battle for survival, and there’s the sense that in this culture of corruption, the only way to survive is to leave morality behind and join in.

Review copy. Translated by Clifford Landers

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The Snowman by Jörg Fauser

“You’re done for,” Blum told himself, “you’re all washed up here on Malta–with a dentist’s drunk wife on your arm, a left-luggage receipt from Munich Central in your pocket, stolen from a wig worn by a wop to whom you were planning to flog 200 porn magazines, and an Australian with one lung who can’t shake off his nightmares there among the palms in front of you.”

Continuing with German literature month cohosted by Caroline and Lizzy, I selected The Snowman by Jörg Fauser for my crime pick. There are three reasons for this 1) Caroline has recommended the book more than once 2) It’s published by Bitter Lemon Press and I’ve had good luck with their titles. The third reason? The blurb on the back of the book starts like this:

Blum is down on his luck. No one in Malta wants to buy the classy collection of Danish porn mags he’s trying to unload discreetly.

Now that got my attention…

So, the novel begins with Blum, a strange character in his late thirties stuck in Malta with very little cash, but with a collection of Danish porn magazines “like vintage wine” to sell. It’s not exactly clear how Blum ended up in Malta or where the magazines came from, but it’s screamingly clear that the police don’t want Blum around. Blum’s unsavoury shady past follows him like a lingering bad smell. His one-month tourist visa expires in just 3 days, and he’s told to get out or he’ll be picked up and carted off to jail. But Blum needs money, and that means he has to unload the magazines as soon as possible.

Blum is at that dangerous stage in life when his crimes and cons have become increasingly small-time, yet he still dreams of the big score. As fate would have it, a series of circumstances finds Blum holding 5lbs of uncut Peruvian flake–considered by some to be the very best cocaine in the world. It has a street value of about $600,000, but Blum learns that if you’re not a drug dealer with connections, it’s very hard to unload that much product. Sure, people want a free sample, and some will even spring for a gram or two but that doesn’t help Blum in his long-term plans to escape to some exotic location–say, the Bahamas:

He went back to the hotel, stuck the locker key to the inside of the lavatory cistern, stared at his money. He was going to be forty next week, and here he was in this room in a run-down hotel, unable to turn five pounds of cocaine into ready cash. And if he did, then what? He saw himself at forty-three, at forty-seven, at fifty-two, in other rooms, but all of them alike, with a shirt hanging on a dryer, a fly buzzing against the lamp, a radio playing “Spanish Eyes”, sirens howling, the level of whisky in the bottle going down, his heartbeats coming faster, and a telephone that didn’t ring.

The Snowman is heavy on atmosphere and character as the plot follows Blum’s inept and increasingly paranoid attempts to sell the cocaine. He travels from Malta to Munich, onto Frankfurt, and then Holland and Belgium, living in one dank, seedy hotel room after another and discovering that “by comparison, even the porn trade was a high-society occasion.” He has the urge to flee but lacks the funds to do so; he also fights the impulse to hide, but he can’t do that as he needs to unload the coke, so he’s caught in a dilemma: he has to take some risks to make a sale, but every time he lands a potential customer, he’s exposing himself to danger at the hands of the cocaine’s real owners. After one sordid deal after another, he eventually comes to some realizations about the drug trade:

Apparently with coke you didn’t lose your mind until you lost control over the dosage, but perhaps as a dealer you lost your mind if you lost control over your trade.

Blum strikes up a relationship of sorts with a grubby blonde named Cora who reminds him of Brigitte Bardot “gone to seed”:

You can’t hide with five pounds of coke, not if you want to make money out of it. And now he’d landed himself with a blonde too, a tarty pot-head, probably with the police after her, but she was what he wanted. At twenty he’d dreamed of such blondes and jerked himself off. Now at forty he finally had one, even if she was shop soiled and run-down. But it was never too late for blondes.

Cora claims to have connections in the drug trade, and so Blum takes her along for the ride.

 Author and journalist Jörg Fauser, according to the novel’s insert, kicked an addiction to heroin but was killed July 16, 1987 when he “wandered” out on the motorway. He’d been celebrating his forty-third birthday. The Snowman (which was made into the film Der Schneemann) is strongest in its depiction of the seedy underbelly of life –the cheap hotels, the filthy toilets– in every city Blum travels through, and there are some passages (including one about copulating cockroaches) that creates the urge for a good hot shower.  There’s an intense authenticity to these scenes, and a sour truth to Fred’s realization that he’s small-time for a reason.

Translated by Anthea Bell

“Stay happy on a small scale gentleman, because happiness is the most expensive drug of all.”

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