Leighton Gage, author of Blood of the Wicked, appeared at the Velma Teague Library last night, as part of the Authors at the Teague program. If you get a chance to hear him, grab it. He's a man who can discuss everything from Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose to Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands by Jorge Amado. He has the sense of humor to compare his writing to that of poor Edward Bulwer-Lytton, and say he feels good that his own writing isn't used for a contest that celebrates the worst of all possible sentences, "It was a dark and stormy night." Gage writes vivid scenes of violence with the soul of a poet. He has a love of world travel that was inculcated by a sea captain grandfather, and he brings Brazil to life in living color.
Gage said it's important to put Blood of the Wicked into context. The murders that take place in the mystery could only have occurred in modern Brazil. Although he talks about the socio-economic status and politics in Brazil, he feels if you keep the reader intrigued and happy while reading the book, you can slip in other things. This book discusses the social, economic, and religious issues in Brazil. His second book, which will be out next January, is about organ theft in that country, a real problem. The third one will deal with child prostitution.
Blood of the Wicked deals with the conflict between rich and poor, the landowners and the landless. There is a thin layer of the very rich in Brazil, then a big space before the next class. There is a great deal of wealth in the country, and a disproportionate of it is held by a very few. Brazil is a very wealthy country. They used ehanol 25 to 30 years ago. They are mineral-rich. They are rich in natural gas and petroleum. The Amazon River is the source of 25% of the world's fresh water. It's a wealthy country, with a large underclass. And, it's a place where life is cheap. In the northern part of the country, it only takes $200 to have an ordinary person killed. Over 1,500 people have been killed in the land wars in Brazil.
Gage discussed the theology of liberation, an important concept in Blood of the Wicked. This is a theory that the Catholic Church is holding back the poor, with the promise of heaven in the next world, rather than the promise of what they can have in this world. Many priests who believed in the theology of liberation, and that they should be involved in this movement, have been forced to go underground after the Society for the Propogration of the Faith in Room said there is no theology of liberation, and priests should not be involved. It has actually caused a schism in the Church.
An other issue in the book is the corrupt police, which is very common, south of the border. In that part of the world, cops are often kidnappers, assassins and robbers in their day jobs. So, who do you trust? Gage's protagonist is a federal cop, Mario Silva. He's based on two people Gage knows. He made him a federal cop to allow him to roam the entire country, to deal with a number of crimes.
One man who is the source of Mario Silva is a friend who attended the FBI national academy in Quantico, which is a program that gives some FBI expertise to law officers with at least five years experience. Twenty-five policemen from other countries are invited each year. This builds informed contacts in other countries.
Gage introduced his wife, Eide, when he said she was Brazilian, and every single member of her family has been assaulted at one time by gunman. He said everybody in the country gets stuck up at gunpoint. It's a situation he uses in Blood of the Wicked. He said when the dictatorship fell apart in the late 80's, everything became lax under democracy. Crime rates exploded. It got so bad that people didn't even talk about it, possibliy in denial. They live with that in Brazil. The violence in the book reflects the reality of life in Brazil.
He said he lives in Brazil by choice because he loves it. He said it has a natural beauty, and it's the most beautiful harbor in the world. He said the people are nice. But, it's an accurate portrayal of the crime in the country. He suggested people read the author's notes in Blood of the Wicked before reading the story, in order to understand the background.
The second cop who is the basis of Mario Silva is his brother-in-law's closest friend. Senior police must have a law degree in Brazil. This man is the Head of the Murder Squad in Sao Paulo, with a staff of 750, and he feels he's understaffed. That says a great deal about the number of murders in a city of 11 million people. Drug gangs even attack police stations and kill cops. There are shantytowns around the major cities, and criminals come down from the hills. He said it's very important not to react to a stick-up. Don't stop at red lights. Slow down, and go through the light, or you will be accosted. Brazil has the largest fleet of armored personal vehicles in the world.
In answer to a question, he said everyone takes time off for Carnival, and Eide said, even the criminals. He said he loves the sense of humor of the people. Leighton Gage quoated Edgar Lee Masters in saying his heart answered to Brazil, and that he found the melody that harmonized with his heart.
Gage said he had been in advertising, and that's a young man's business. He decided to write a book, and it's not easy. He said it took him four or five books before he found his voice.
Leighton Gage's next book is due out in January 2008. I'm very honored that Velma Teague is the only library he visited on his tour of the U.S. I hope he and Eide come back.
Leighton Gage's website is www.leightongage.com
The Blood of the Wicked by Leighton Gage. Soho Crime, ©2007. ISBN 978-1569474709 (hardcover), 324p.