HOTEL BRASIL: The Mystery of the Severed Heads
Written by Frei Betto
Review written by Russell James
Russell James has been named “the Godfather of Noir” by Ian Rankin. Russell writes crime novels - about criminals and victims, not the cozy procedural or whodunnit. He is the editor of Great British Fictional Detectives.
Bitter Lemon Press
Released: 3rd March 2014
If you never read books in translation (other than Nordic Noir perhaps) it’s easy to think that crime novels around the world follow broadly similar lines. Let this one disabuse you. Billed as ‘A case for Rio’s police inspector Olinto Del Bosco’, it’s far from what we might call a police procedural.
Del Bosco is not, nor is intended to be, a cop you can empathise with; he is one of the least interesting characters in the book – and almost unnecessary, as he doesn’t really solve the crime, or crimes, since this is ‘the mystery of the severed heads’. The story really concerns the various characters who dwell in the hotel, characters scraping along in the less salubrious parts of Rio (areas unlikely to be visited by football fans and tourists), including a pimp, a journalist, a part-time social worker, a jewellery salesman, a cleaner – a motley crew, one of whom must be the serial killer who first slays (apparently painlessly) then decapitates fellow residents.
Rules of the country-house style detective story state that the culprit must be one of those in the building, and should not be excluded from the reader’s list of suspects (by being too minor a character, or turning up late in the story, or being otherwise ruled out). Only one of these rules is kept.