From Britain to Brazil: two polished procedurals

January 15, 2009 at 7:26 pm (Book review, books, Mystery fiction, The British police procedural)

stone In No Stone Unturned by Peter Turnbull, we return once again to the ancient precincts of York. (I would return there tomorrow if I could!) We walk the walls, we glide through the snickelways, we gaze up at the astounding Minster.





Oh – and we observe the progress of a murder inquiry.

Skeletal remains have been found under a pile of rubble in a field outside the city. DCI George Hennessey and his team must first determine the corpse’s identity, then pursue the perpetrator of the crime.

The investigation exposes the doings of two frightening right wing organizations with deceptively innocuous sounding names: the British Alliance and the Defenders of St. George. The cunning and evasive – not to mention elusive – members are past masters at cloaking their activities in secrecy. Unfortunately, more homicides occur before Hennessey and his team finally crack this baffling case.

Peter Turnbull

Peter Turnbull

Many are the attractions – at least, for this reader – of the novels of Peter Turnbull. The plots are intriguing without being overly convoluted (resulting in the books’ refreshing brevity). The “regulars” on the force are very appealing. There’s Hennessey himself, a man who has suffered a tragic losses yet been  able to soldier on. Now heading towards retirement (please, not too soon George!), he has found great consolation both in the achievements of his son and in a new relationship of his own. He is the very epitome of a decent, fairminded copper. For many years, the sergeant at his side has been Somerled (pronounced “Sorley”) Yellich. Yellich has challenges of his own in his personal life, but he meets them with strength and compassion – and the support of a loving, generous wife.

In No Stone Unturned, a new member joins the team. I’ll let Turnbull perform the introduction in his own words: “Carmen Pharoah walked home receiving a few not unexpected and hostile glances, because tall, elegant black women are an unusual sight in York.”

Another pleasure of this series is the author’s piquant, slightly antiquated mode of expression. Each chapter heading contains an “in which;” for instance, here’s the heading for Chapter Four,  “in which further information is obtained and Yellich, Webster and Ventnor are at home to the gracious reader.” At times the dialogue is characterized by a similar formality of diction. Here, in the course of the autopsy, the medical examiner informs Hennessey of her preliminary findings:

“‘Death…well, I won’t stick my neck out as you know…but death occurred within the last ten years. I mean, we are not looking at a well-preserved Roman soldier who passed away over a thousand years ago…this gentleman saw the same sunsets as we did. So, he is of interest to you.’


blackout And now, off to warm, sunny Brazil…don’t I wish! Actually, they have their fair share of storms there. At least, that is what Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, author of the Inspector Espinosa novels, would have us believe. It is during one such downpour that the body of a homeless man is discovered in a cul-de-sac on Sao Joao Hill in Rio de Janeiro.  He has been shot in the chest.

The victim was discovered just as a dinner party given by residents in the cul-de-sac was ending. Espinosa and his team interview the hosts and the guests that attended the party. Espinosa’s finely honed instinct tell him that two individuals are worth further attention: architect and interior designer Aldo Bruno and his wife Camila, a psychotherapist.

At first, progress on this investigation is between slow and nonexistent. For one thing, it has taken a Herculean effort simply to identify the victim. Then there is the fact that the storm succeeded in obliterating almost all of the potentially crucial forensic evidence. Finally, while police are still struggling to solve the murder of the homeless man, a second killing occurs which shocked the daylights out of  Yours Truly!

As the investigation winds along its tortuous course, Garcia-Roza’s graceful writing and wry wit are constantly in evidence.  For example, here’s Espinosa taking  inventory of his forty-three-year-old body. His lover Irene is more than ten years his junior, and he is somewhat anxious about what she sees when she gazes at him:

“He hadn’t gotten fat, his abdomen was still well defined, the little tire that was growing around his waist was negligible, he wasn’t bald and he hadn’t gone gray–besiddes the occasional hair on his temples–and his muscles and joints still worked. The problem was that when he thought about Irene, that little inventory felt like an autopsy.

Espinosa’s introspective ruminations are among the chief pleasures of this novel. In another scene, he has just been to his favorite bookstore, where he purchased novels by Faulkner, J.M. Coetzee, and Patricia Highsmith. (As you can see, the bookish inspector has eclectic taste in literature. ) Having completed this pleasing exercise, he finds himself outside in the midst of a beautiful day. He thinks to himself that the sky is a “Matisse blue.” Here’s how his thoughts proceed from there:

“Something was wrong with this picture. It didn’t match the person…or the screenplay was all right and the director was no good. But it wasn’t a film or a play, it was real life, and the character was not played by an artist but was himself: Espinosa, a police chief  who had never seen a Matisse in real life. He kept walking and thinking about what a strange person he was.

Espinosa goes on try out several terms which might accurately describe his personality. After trying out and  rejecting the labels “eccentric” and “idiot,” he decides that the simple truth is that he lives in his own world. End of subject!

Not quite, though. Garcia-Roza likes to examine the mental processes that are brought to bear on a criminal investigation. In a later scene, it is night, and Espinosa is allowing his thoughts to range freely:

“Sometimes the  flow of ideas produced an interesting theory. He wasn’t worried about thinking with any logical rigor, if only because he doubted that his ideas had, at any point in his life, stemmed from any logical rigor. What he was doing was removing the pretense of logic and letting the monsters come to the surface. Some of those monsters would  get sent back into the pit, but others merited closer examination. And that was a technique in which madness could be as useful as reason.

This passage put me in mind of Goya’s famous etching,  “The Sleep of Reason Produced Monsters” ((El Sueño de la Razon Produce Monstruos).


I’ve always considered this powerful, disturbing image to be a visual cautionary tale meant to frighten the viewer. But according to Espinosa/Garcia-Roza, these same monsters can be put to constructive use in examining and understanding the dark recesses of  the human mind.

foto-garcia-roza-livros Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza holds doctoral degrees in philosophy and psychology; he is an emeritus professor of both disciplines at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

I’ve not been to Brazil, but like many, I have mental images of Rio.

Christ the Redeemer ('Cristo Redentor') atop Corcovado mountain

Christ the Redeemer ('Cristo Redentor') atop Corcovado mountain

The beach at Copacabana

The beach at Copacabana

Leblon sand Ipanema, both of which figure prominently in Blackout

Leblon sand Ipanema, both of which figure prominently in Blackout



For those of us who came of age in the sixties, the soundtrack to these images  is the song “The Girl from Ipanema.” Here it is, sung by Andy Williams and the composer, Antonio Carlos Jobim:


  1. Martin Edwards said,

    I’m glad you’ve highlighted Peter Turnbull. He is a very sound writer, all too often overlooked.

  2. Roberta Rood said,

    Thanks for your comment, Martin. I am continually impressed by the generosity of writers like yourself toward fellow authors of crime fiction. I sense that Peter Turnbull is a rather private person. More power to him for that, but like you, i really enjoy his books and want others to know about them.

  3. Pauline Cohen said,

    This is probably too late to respond to your review of Blackout, but I’m doing it anyway. I finished the book today and am glad I read it. I have read most of this writer’s books ,and they are certainly different from other police procedurals. I enjoy the personality of Espinosa and was sorry when the book ended–a little abruptly, IMHO. I am now going to seek out the one book in his series that I haven’t read yet.

    I’m so glad you reminded me about this writer. Sometimes it’s hard to remember all of the writers one wants to keep up with. So many books…..


  4. “‘He trifles with us. Methinks the felon doth trifle.’” – Turning Point, by Peter Turnbull « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] fourth book in the Hennessey / Yellich series that I’ve reviewed on this blog. The others are No Stone Unturned, Once a Biker, and Chill Factor. In the first two, I talked about the wonders of York in general, […]

  5. Best books of 2009: my own favorites « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] Angel by Ruth Brandon The Listening Walls by Margaret Millar The Private Patient by P.D. James Blackout by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza Wycliffe and the Tangled Web by W.J.  Burley The Professional by […]

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