9 October 2014

Review: HOTEL BRASIL, Frei Betto

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 670 KB
  • Print Length: 258 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1908524278
  • Publisher: Bitter Lemon Press; Reprint edition (February 24, 2014), first published in Brazil 1999
  • translated by Jethro Soutar
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00APD9X50
Synopsis (Amazon)

According to the police, the victim was stabbed in the heart before the head was separated from the body. As the investigation continues other hotel clients are decapitated, usually with the head found delicately balanced on the knees of the sitting victim.

A witty, touching account of life at the edge of Brazilian society, dressed up as a murder mystery.

My Take

Published in 1999 and set in a boarding house/hotel in Rio de Janeiro, this paints a similar picture of life in urban Brazil (see my most recent review of HAPPINESS IS EASY set in Sao Paolo): residents frightened of being mugged or worse, richer residents who travel in bullet proof cars, everyone keeping off the streets at night, but we see things from the seamier side.

The first victim is a travelling salesman who deals mainly in gemstones. He was stabbed through the heart first, then beheaded, and at some stage his eyeballs were removed. We see the crime through the eyes of Professor Candido, one of the other hotel residents, who does casual editorial work and works with street children. The other residents are regarded by the police as sexual deviants: among them a journalist, a wanna-be actress, a procurer of young girls, a transvestite, and a government political aide who returned to Brazil from Paris during the political amnesty. Each of them is interviewed by the police. Delegado Del Bosco is convinced the murder was an outside job with the assistance of one of the residents.

At first the structure of the novel is almost pure Agatha Christie. There is a body, perhaps more gruesomely murdered than in a Christie. Initially the suspects are all the residents of the hotel including the caretaker and the owner. They are questioned in turn by the police, attempting to determine where they were when the crime was committed. Each is asked whom they suspect, the police officer hoping for a confession from someone. In the style of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE the residents begin to die, their deaths also featuring decapitation.

However the crimes at Hotel Brasil soon take second place to the activities of the delinquents that Candido is attempting save. Although there are further murders in the hotel and other deaths, in the long run I have to agree with the final line of the synopsis an "account of life at the edge of Brazilian society, dressed up as a murder mystery." To be honest I was disappointed.

My rating: 3.7

About the Author

Frei Betto: Frei Betto, born 1944, is a Brazilian writer, political activist, liberation theologian and Dominican friar. He was imprisoned for four years in the 1970s by the military dictatorship for smuggling people out of Brazil. In addition to work on eliminating hunger in Brazil, Frei Betto is involved in Brazilian politics. He worked for the government of President Lula da Silva as an advisor on prison policy and child hunger. This is his first novel.

Jethro Soutar: Jethro Soutar, born in Sheffield, lives in London and has recently published two works of non-fiction, 'Ronaldinho: Football's Flamboyant Maestro' and a part biography, part chronicle of a film movement, entitled 'Gael GarcĂ­a Bernal and the Latin American New Wave', published in July 2008. Soutar translated Needle in a Haystack by Ernesto Mallo for Bitter Lemon Press.

1 comment:

Margot Kinberg said...

Looks like Blogger ate my comment! Sorry, Kerrie. This does sound like an interesting novel, and certainly one that shows some of the complexity of modern Brazil. Still, shame it didn't work for you.

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