Leighton Gage's Perfect Hatred, the newest installment in his series featuring Brazilian Federal Police Inspector Mario Silva, is BookPage's Top Pick in Mystery for March 2013. With an exotic location and perfect plotting, it is "hands down the first 'do not miss' mystery of 2013!"
BookPage chatted with Gage about Brazil, the tough lives of cops and To Kill a Mockingbird.
Describe your book in one sentence.
Armchair tourism for crime fiction lovers.
Why does Brazil make such an excellent setting for your thrillers?
Brazil is big, larger than the continental United States, and endlessly variable. From the Amazon region in the north, with the biggest rainforest in the world and a single river that pumps out 20 percent of all the fresh water on earth, to the Pantanal, the largest wetland area on the planet, there are thousands of potential locations I can transport my readers to—and hundreds of issues to explore.
In Perfect Hatred, for example, we range from São Paulo, the largest city in the Southern hemisphere, to the great waterfalls at Iguaçu, where three countries meet. And then we cross over the border into Paraguay, a sad little country where contraband makes up 80 percent of the national economy and human life is cheap.
Would you make a good cop? Why or why not?
I’d make a lousy cop.
In researching my books, I’ve spent a lot of time with cops and their families. And through those experiences, I’ve come to realize how hard the job is. I’m not talking about the technical challenges or the day-to-day investigations. I’m talking about the emotional side, about what working as a cop does to you inside.
By way of illustration, here’s a story I got from one detective’s wife:
"There’s no truth in the adage 'it’s a small world.' It is, in fact, a very big world."
Her husband was assigned to investigate a double murder. A 17-year-old girl claimed she’d returned home from a date to find her parents bludgeoned to death in their bed. But the cop’s instincts told him the girl was lying. Ultimately, she confessed that she and her boyfriend had committed the crime. Not because she’d hated her parents, not because they’d abused her, but because they’d objected to her continuing relationship with the thug who helped kill them. She showed no remorse for what she’d done. She didn’t shed a single tear during the entire interrogation. Her only concern was that she’d been caught.
But the cop was so shocked that he went home, sank into a chair, wrapped his 7-year-old daughter in his arms and bawled like a baby. “Seventeen years old,” he kept saying, over and over again. “Seventeen years old.”
His wife felt helpless. She couldn’t find a way to comfort him.
If you could take one of Mario Silva's characteristics for yourself, what would it be?
Hmm. That’s a tough one. He’s an amalgam, you see, of the best cops I’ve known. He has integrity. He’s smart. He’s a good team leader, compassionate, intuitive and not cowed by his bosses, the bureaucracy or the largely corrupt system in which he works. So there are a lot of sterling qualities to choose from. But if I had to choose just one, I’d have to say it’s his dogged persistence.
Because, invariably, when I start a new book, it’s like looking at a cliff I have to climb. All authors know this feeling, know we’ll get to the top eventually, but it requires the expenditure of considerable energy to keep at it, day after day, week after week, scrambling our lonely way up that mental rock face.
If Silva could bottle his dogged persistence, writers would buy it by the caseload.
Name one book you think everyone should read.
Everyone? I can’t even come up with a book that I think would appeal equally to my wife and my daughters.
No, wait, I take that back. There’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
For once, I put aside our dissimilar reading preferences and recommended that one to all the members of my family. All of them loved it. As, I think, has everyone who has ever read it.
You've done quite a bit of traveling. What's the greatest thing you've learned from all your adventures?
That there’s no truth in the adage "it’s a small world." It is, in fact, a very big world. No lifetime is long enough to see it all—and 100 lifetimes wouldn’t be enough to learn all its languages and understand all its cultures.
The Ways of Evil Men. Silva and his crew are called in to investigate the extermination of a tribe in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. The good folks from Soho will be publishing it in the early part of next year.