Mysteries Go Global, Part Three: Death in Rio de Janeiro: Alone in the Crowd by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza

November 4, 2009 at 12:44 pm (Book review, books, Mystery fiction)

crowd The novel begins with the murder of an elderly woman. Dona Laureta possessed knowledge so incriminating that someone was driven to kill her before she revealed certain facts to the police. Who was that frightened individual, and what did those facts consist of? This is what Inspector Espinosa and his team of investigators must find out.

Almost at the outset, Hugo Breno, a bank teller, becomes a suspect. Breno is a strange, solitary man, one who also happens to be connected personally to Espinosa: when children, they had played sports together in the  streets of their Rio neighborhood. Adulthood had taken them on widely divergent paths. Breno has remained acutely aware of Espinosa, while initially, the latter can barely remember his long-ago playmate.

One of the most intriguing aspects of Breno’s personality is that he constantly seeks out large crowds of people, preferably when they are on the move. By placing himself in such a setting, he is able to assuage a constant, low level anxiety. He has no use for the beauty of nature, craving instead the anonymous press of a mass of human bodies, moving like a single organism:

“He didn’t have any interest in seeing the ocean or appreciating the sunset. For him, the oft-praised beauty of Copacabana Beach would do nothing to put him in a  better mood. Nature proved useless when dealing with human problems and feelings….Man does not resemble nature. among the crowd, the human individual can either lose himself in the homogeneous mass or maintain his individuality. The feeling of belonging to something yet still keeping one’s difference is one of the supreme experiences of man among the crowd. In nature, whether the surroundings are  beautiful or ugly, pleasant or unpleasant, man will always be different. Always a figure, never in the background….That’s why nature didn’t interest Hugo. When dealing with human matters, human sentiments and fears, nature was irrelevant.

You would probably agree that at  the very least, we’re dealing here with unusual thought processes. Plausible, but unusual. The character of Hugo Breno immediately put me in mind of Edgar Allan Poe’s  “The Man of the Crowd.” Later in the book, Espinosa specifically references that haunting story.

Espinosa himself is a man of idiosyncracies In a previous post, I quoted a passage describing his method of ordering the enormous number of books he keeps in his modest apartment. I found this aspect of his personality rather endearing. As revealed in this novel, though, some of the inspector’s other traits are distinctly less appealing, especially where the conduct of his love life is concerned (about which I will say no more at present).

I liked this book, but not quite as much as Southwesterly Wind and Blackout, which remain my favorites in this series. wind blackout


Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza is the only South American author on the “Go Global” book list that I created for my presentation. Curious to know which other writers of crime fiction hail from that continent, I consulted Wheredunnit and came up with a rather small list. I note with interest that the library has In Praise of Lies by Patricia Melo; also, I remembered reading Who Killed Palomino Molero? when it came out in 1987.  praiseoflies_1 palomino scriptwriter

Mario Vargas Llosa is a distinguished novelist; his Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter was one of the first new titles I read when I came to work at the library in 1982. I recall it as being inventive in the extreme and very entertaining to boot.


Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza


Mario Vargas Llosa


  1. Pauline Cohen said,

    Thank you, Roberta, for the reminder about the author, Luis Alfredo Garcia-Roza. I look forward to reading his latest book. I believe I have read all of his previous mysteries.

    It is strange that you could only find a few South American writers for your list. I believe that your search represents the small number of authors whose work is translated into English and published in the U.S. I can’t believe that there aren’t others that are worth our attention–ones who don’t make it on the international publishing scene.


    • Roberta Rood said,

      And my thank to you, Pauline, for leaving a comment! (I do think you’re right concerning S. American crime fiction.)

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