Written by Raphael Montes, translated by Alison Entrain — Sometimes, reading Crime Fiction Lover is like taking a trip around the world. We take you to Japan, to Finland, to South Africa and now… to Brazil. Raphael Montes’ debut novel caused some excitement in his native land, and it proves to be an interesting look into a deluded and obsessive mind.
Teo is a medical student and the only woman he likes is Gertrude, the cadaver on which they perform their dissections in the anatomy lab. He lives with his wheelchair-bound mother, whom he helps and despises in equal measure. When he meets self-confident student and budding scriptwriter Clarice at a party, he is sure that they are fated to be together forever. All that remains is to convince Clarice of this matter. Even if that means kidnapping her, handcuffing her and lying to his mother, her mother and everyone else about her. But he’s not doing that because he is sick or a psycho, he tells himself. He just wants to prove to Clarice that they would make the perfect couple. The narrator tells us: “He was incapable of abusing her: he lacked the animal instinct that men received at birth. This was just one of his qualities. If there were more people like him, the world would be a better place.”
Clarice is writing a screenplay for a road movie and had booked a stay for herself at a hotel in Teresopolis, the district that surrounds Rio de Janeiro. Teo decides to go with her to a writing retreat, even if he has to take her there in a suitcase. Besides, he will be there with her, to fend off unwanted visitors and remove any other distractions, such as mobile phones, cigarettes or any contact with the outside world. He believes he can give her valuable feedback on her work, and that she will come to appreciate and love him. But things don’t quite go according to plan and Teo has to become more forceful and more cunning. At the same time, Clarice is anything but a passive victim.
This makes for mounting tension and many surprising and chilling moments. If this reminds you of John Fowles’ The Collector, you would be right, although the ending here is more unexpected and arguably even more disturbing. The Brazilian author has a quirky, deadpan humour all his own, and he doesn’t shy away from showing all the bodily functions you might expect under the circumstances. There are a few graphic scenes of mutilation, although they are made bearable by the coldly analytical, scientific way in which they are described.
Teo’s self-delusion is extreme, yet he manages to sound so plausible that we cannot help but follow his every move, wondering if he will succeed against all odds. The book sometimes hovers on the borders of the unbelievable: you can’t help but wonder why people tend to find Teo so plausible. But he is clearly a high-functioning sociopath, and a medical student will always be well-regarded and trusted in a rapidly-developing country like Brazil.
This is a crazy, twisted, funny ride with a bitter ending. In fact, I can foresee some readers being angry at the ending, which to my mind reflects perhaps the violence and futility that many Brazilians see in their society. The book as a whole does have something of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley and of The Collector about it, but it is not derivative. It has its very own wicked voice. I’m looking forward to more books by this talented young author.
Perfect Days is released 18 February. For more Latin American crime fiction, try these authors.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars