Every Bitter Thing is the fourth book in Leighton Gage’s captivating mystery series featuring Chief Inspector Mario Silva of the Brazilian Federal Police. In this book, Silva and his team are faced with a series of brutal murders with the same m.o. – the victims were all shot once, then beaten to death. Despite the creepy cover, it is a fast-paced who-done-it, not a scary thriller.
Solving the mystery requires Silva to first find the connection between the victims – not so easy, since they range from a respected professor who writes popular “scientific” books about sexuality, to a violent thug recently released from prison, to a flight attendant laying over at an airport hotel. The search takes the team to several Brazilian locales, including Rio de Janeiro and Holambra, a city of Dutch immigrants famous for its lavish cut flower exposition.
Leighton does an excellent job of blending factual information about Brazil into the story. His touch is light, so the reader gets a good idea of the cultural and geographic setting without being distracted by travelogue.
He has also built a great cast of characters who all add to the narrative. There’s a hard-boiled sidekick, a good looking younger cop they all call Babyface, a medical examiner who is the girlfriend of one of the detectives, an unlikeable climber of a supervisor, and even a Miami policeman buddy willing to do stateside legwork. Gage alludes to the backstory about these people just enough to pique interest in reading the earlier books in the series, but without confusing the present story.
Gage's writing is lean and crisp. He describes enough to set the scenes, but depends mostly on dialog to move the story ahead at a good, steady clip. He has a good ear -- the characters speak realistically, but with individual voices.
One letdown is the plotting, which is pretty straightforward. Silva and his cohorts go from one murder scene to the next and carefully piece the clues together until they solve the mystery. There is a bit of a twist, but overall the story would be more exciting with a few more blind alleys, false leads, and conflicting theories. For example, no one ever wonders why the victims were shot first and then beaten. Were they tortured for information? Was this method the signature of a psychotic serial killer? No one on Silva’s team asks these kinds of questions. They just march forward, connecting the dots.
Also, no one on Silva’s team is ever really in any danger. They are police facing bad guys, but there are no immediate threats or near misses. The book would benefit from a couple of nail biting scenes.
At fewer than 300 pages, the story has room for fluffing to address these minor weaknesses. Still, Every Bitter Thing packs quite a bit of entertainment between its covers.
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