Read as part of CBR15Bingo: South America. The story takes place (and is largely a commentary on) the city of São Paulo, Brazil, which is located in South America.
There’s a specific kind of fevered, conspiracy-addled, crime fiction that only works in the right hands. Told in a postmodern, often repetitious style that many find grating (including, often, me). And the endings are often ambiguous, incomplete, or complete in a way that you cannot possibly accept or understand. You have to be willing to go along with the ride in order to get where you need to be because large parts of it will frustrate you. But the end result will spin you off your axis.
James Ellroy and David Peace are the masters of this genre and I’ve sung both of their praises on this here site, most recently for Peace’s indelible Tokyo Trilogy, which I finished this past week. I had a back-and-forth with former Gawker scribe Max Read, whose newsletter I subscribe to and who enjoys a lot of the same kind of books. He recommended Joe Thomas’ São Paulo Quartet as being in a similar vein. And wouldn’t you know…these books were literally rereleased last week! I wasted no time in getting the first and finished it to check off the “South America” square on my bingo card.
I’d like to say I was blown away by this book but Thomas isn’t as manic as Ellroy or Peace. Which is not a bad thing as both of those guys are Don’t Try This At Home types. But he does know how to tell a fast paced, layered story in jittery fashion, having the protagonist (inevitably a Wounded Man) bouncing back and forth through his particular favela of São Paulo in order to solve a puzzling crime that is, naturally, more than it seems.
Thomas’ first book in the series showed real promise. I enjoyed being along for the ride for the most part. I also liked how São Paulo feels real, not just a cipher for a story or a Gotham-esque place that needs a man to deliver it salvation. It has its issues, and those issues are well explored, but Thomas doesn’t try to make the city more or less than what it is.
The shortcoming is the protagonist. He’s somewhat interesting and his backstory is kind of teased out but I don’t know that Thomas developed his character enough for me to be fully invested. He’s an interesting guy and I definitely found myself rooting for him but I just couldn’t be as invested as I would’ve liked. Even when the intensity of the crime ratcheted up, I found myself drifting for no other reason than I just didn’t care about the Lead.
Nevertheless, this is a fun crime read in a familiar niche vein that I will definitely follow up on.