BRAZIL, CRIME, AND THE FUTURE: AN INTERVIEW WITH LEIGHTON GAGE
In the final part of an interview with Leighton Gage, author of Blood of the Wicked and his latest book Buried Strangers [to be published in Jamuary 2009] he discusses among other topics the future of Brazil. You can read my review of Blood of the Wicked here, and the first two parts of this interview here and here. Glenn Harper at International Noir Fiction is always a thoughtful reviewer and he has a review of Buried Strangers here.
Crime Scraps: Other countries have vast disparities between the rich and the poor but police death squads seem to be unique to Brazil and other Latin American countries. What do you think the reasons for this are?
Leighton: I can’t speak for the other countries of South America, but I can say this about Brazil: the judiciary system is a mess; there are many corrupt judges; it takes an eternity for a case to come to trial; there is little space in the overcrowded prisons; there is no death penalty; sentences tend to be lax. More than eighty percent of all felons wind up being released before serving out their terms.
Brazilian death squads, usually composed of cops, stem from a misguided attempt to bring justice to the legal system. They’re like the vigilantes of the old American West. Sometimes, though, such squads are recruited for more nefarious purposes, purposes that have nothing to do with a perception of justice. I deal with an instance of this in Blood of the Wicked.
Crime Scraps: You described Brazil as a very rich country with a lot of very poor people. Would entry into an expanded G9 or a seat on the UN Security Council begin a process of improving the social conditions for the poor?
Leighton: No, I don’t think it would. Did you know that the United Nations peacekeepers currently in Haiti are all Brazilian troops? And the fact that, whenever there’s been a natural disaster anywhere in South America, Brazil has always stepped in to help? Brazil is anxious for a bigger role on the world stage, and there’s no doubt in my mind that facilitating that would be helpful to other, less fortunate peoples. Unfortunately, though, it would be unlikely to have any internal effect.
Crime Scraps: If the books were brought to the screen who would you have in mind to pay the parts of Mario, Hector and Agente Arnaldo Nunes?
Leighton: Dustin Hoffman would probably make a great Silva, Johnny Depp a great Hector and Russel Crowe would shine as Arnaldo. But you know what? I’d really like to see the film made in Brazil, with Brazilian actors and spoken in Portuguese. Yeah, I know, it’s hardly going to build major readership in the first world or make me famous. But it would be personally satisfying.
I’d like to call your readers’ attention to two Brazilian films: Elite Troop (Tropa da Elite) and City of God (Cidade de Deus). Brazilian crime films are far more “real” than most of what comes out of Hollywood. BOTW reflects that reality.
Crime Scraps: Who are your favourite crime fiction authors?
Leighton: Have you read Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s Shadow of the Wind? Terrific Book! Eric Ambler’s work continues to appeal to me. So does much of John Le Carré and almost everything published by Soho Crime and Bitter Lemon Press. Anybody who hasn’t yet checked out their web sites – should.
Crime Scraps: What crime fiction book would you like to have written, and why?
Leighton: Picking just one is really difficult. Maybe Ian Pears’ An Incidence of the Fingerpost? A staggering achievement!
Crime Scraps: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about Brazil’s future? Do you see the countries wealth eventually filtering down to the masses?
Leighton: Brazil, in the time I’ve known it, has gone from a military dictatorship to a true democracy. It’s a flawed democracy, often a corrupt democracy, but a true democracy nonetheless. There is absolute freedom of the press and there is absolute freedom of expression. The current President is an ex-union leader with a grade school education, committed to the redistribution of wealth. He can’t do it alone, and he can’t do it overnight, but the country is certainly moving in the right direction. All in all, I’m intensely optimistic about Brazil’s future – just don’t ask me to put a timetable on it.
Thanks very much Leighton for taking the time to answer my questions, and I am really looking forward to reading Buried Strangers and posting a review before the end of the year.
This interview was conducted before the recent financial meltdown. Some economists believed that Brazil along with India, China and Russia, the so -called BRIC group, had de-coupled their expanding economies from the West. From the evidence of the past few days this was wishful thinking but we can only watch and wait to see what the future will hold for Brazil.