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DYING GASP


By Leighton Gage

Soho Press, 2010 ($24.00)
ISBN-10: 1569476136
ISBN-13: 978-1-56947-613-0

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

A bomb explodes on a quiet street in Amsterdam, shredding bodies, cars and buildings. A terrorist group proudly takes credit for the mayhem, and life goes on. One of the vehicles destroyed is a postal truck, and after the police finish with the crime scene, postal service workers collect what they can and salvage what can be pieced back together. One astute young employee finds several sturdy, plain white envelopes. Through a tear in one of them he can see there's a DVD inside. He takes the envelopes to his boss, Inspector Marnix Gans, who takes seriously his charge to make sure the mail goes through as quickly as possible. There is no DVD player at the office — the higher-ups are afraid the staff would use it to watch American movies. Gans believes there may be clues to where the envelopes came from on the DVD, and he knows it could be weeks before the powers that be allow the purchase of a player. Employees are strictly forbidden to take any mail home with them, but he decides to take a risk. He takes the opened DVD home, popping it in his player while eating dinner. Fourteen minutes later he rushes to the bathroom and throws up everything he's eaten. Then he calls the police. Most people say that snuff films are only urban legends, but it is plain from the contents of those envelopes that they are all too real.

Through skillful investigation and a bit of dumb luck, the police are able to nab the distributors and trace the source of the vile films to Brazil. It just so happens that Hector Costa, a Brazilian federal policeman and nephew of Chief Inspector Mario Silva, is in Amsterdam for a conference, and what he learns proves very helpful to his uncle in regard to a missing persons case Silva's been forced to take. Fifteen-year-old Marta Malan is the granddaughter of Deputado Roberto Malan, the man in charge of allotting the budget to government agencies, including the federal police. The girl has run away before, and Silva figures she's just done another runner, but he sends Arnoldo Nunes to Manaus, where the girl and her lover Andrea are reported to be. Manaus is in the state of Amazonas, far from civilization. It is an area known for its lawlessness and political corruption. The town is a hellhole, and Nunes finds the police less than helpful. Only one man, a priest who is trying to make a difference for the children of the town, is willing to talk to him.

The story is told through multiple viewpoints. The most heart-wrenching chapters are seen through Marta's eyes. She and her lover Andrea had been approached by a well-dressed lady who offered them jobs in modeling, but they ended up in a squalid brothel in Manaus. The girls are separated, and Marta is put in a filthy cell. She receives increasingly brutal beatings from a man called the Goat because she lets him know she will fight tooth and nail to prevent being raped. She is a valuable commodity because she's a virgin, but the Goat and Roselia, the "house mother" of the brothel, begin to wonder whether she's worth the trouble. Clients don't usually like their girls to kick and scratch them.

Silva and his team gather information about the snuff films, and discover a connection between the missing girls and the films. Since the Dutch distributors were shut down, someone else has taken over, and Silva suspects it might be a woman he's crossed paths with before. The woman is a cold-hearted sociopath, a physician who has no qualms about taking a human life if it serves her purpose. He steps up the search for Marta in a race against time, as she does everything she can to escape her fate.

This is the third book in the Chief Inspector Mario Silva series, and like the previous two, BLOOD OF THE WICKED and BURIED STRANGERS, he depicts Brazil as a country of great beauty and great violence, with a corrupt government, a small elite ruling class, and a vast population living in abject poverty. Being robbed at gunpoint is something to be accepted, and if one is slow to hand over his property, he is likely to be shot and killed without hesitation. It is not a pretty picture, and the books are not for the faint of heart. On the plus side, the writing is excellent, the characters well-defined, the flora and fauna of Brazil painted in vivid colors. Mario Silva stands out as a hero, a man who doesn't always follow the rules, but who is devoted to doing the best job he can no matter the consequences. He is incorruptible, and he has chosen a team with the same qualities. As difficult as it can be to read these books, they are well worth reading.

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