Book Review: Bellini And The Sphinx

Bellini And The Sphinx, by Tony Bellotto, translated by Clifford E. Landers

The author is apparently a noted musician in Brazil that I am not familiar with and also a noted writer in Brazilian noir fiction.  As someone who is familiar with the noir fiction of various cities around the world like Los Angeles and Belfast [1], this book certainly fits within the contemporary noir tradition in finding a great deal of interest in portraying a seedy and not entirely sympathetic protagonist who solves mysteries and has an ambivalent relationship with the police, a distinct lack of success with women, and has some drug and alcohol issues that could potentially derail his life and relationships.  I must say that I was not overly pleased by the seediness of this particular book and the way that it portrayed the character, but at the same time those who are detectives involve themselves in seedy parts of life and that is indeed the appeal of this sort of book.  It wasn’t made for me because I prefer to have my mysteries involve more intellectual people who are decent, and generally find themselves in historical mysteries rather than contemporary noir.  Noir, by its very definition, focuses on the darkness of life and if you like that you will probably appreciate this.

This novel, which is apparently part of a series of novels relating to its protagonist, one Remo Bellini, who finds himself struggling to keep his life together in the face of a cocaine addiction that would appear to screw up his thinking.  He also finds himself working for a doctor who is investigating a mysterious and vanished exotic dancer.  The doctor, of course, finds himself murdered brutally and now the mystery deepens to a look at why this seemingly perfect doctor with a distant family was killed in such a horrific fashion.  This, of course, leads the detective to a look at his own secret life as a married man on the down low seeking sex in the world of rent boys that can be found near his old Catholic school.  In solving the murder Remo struggles with the meaning and significance of his name as well as a couple of friends with benefits that he acquires through being unable to turn down easy women of low virtue.  And in the end the author saves the life of an accused bisexual dancer and part-time rent boy by figuring out who the real murderer is, and finds himself alone again after screwing things up with both women while going to a shirnk and attempting to reconcile with his father.

In reading this book one gets a sense of the darkness and seediness of the contemporary city.  And while this particular novel is about São Paulo, it could be about any number of cities where wealthy people live double lives that end up destroying them, and where detectives are able to make a living stalking the love interests of paranoid men while engaging in no-strings attached relationships with multiple women, neither of whom really wants to commit where the author still manages to offend both of them through his ham-fisted honesty.   The protagonist adds to the melodrama by having a strained relationship with his own father, which adds one of several layers of bad father-son and father-daughter relationships to be found in this nuanced but unpleasant novel.  This is a novel that will leave a bad taste in your mouth but will also provide a dark soft of insight about the way that people seek to make their place in a world full of darkness that provides plenty of evil and folly for someone to investigate and try to solve.  And those who like dark mysteries will find much to enjoy here.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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