A return to Joe Thomas’s Sao Paulo

Gringa by Joe Thomas

At around this time last year, I read the first in a new crime series set in Sao Paulo (reviewed here for Shiny).  Joe Thomas lived and taught in São Paulo, the most populous city in the Americas and Southern Hemisphere, for ten years. His observations and experience of living in this vibrant city full of extremes inspired his first novel Paradise City, and now its sequel, Gringa.  Joe wrote a lovely piece entitled ‘This is Brasil’  for Shiny New Books last year too about the inspiration for Paradise City, it really sets the atmosphere.

Thomas’s detective is Mario Leme, who works for the civil police, In the first book, Leme is still grief-sticken at the loss of his human rights lawyer wife in a gangland drive-by shooting a year before. There is a dual aspect to the narrative as Leme investigates a car crash in which a rich young man dies, but also is compelled to continue probing into his wife’s death, which was written off as an accident.  Gringa’s prologue begins as Paradise City ends, but I won’t give things away.

Many of the characters in Paradise City make return visits in Gringa – notably Leme’s partner and best friend Lisboa, Carlos – the only militar (military police) that Leme trusts, Silva the journalist, and Antonia. Leme and Antonia’s romance and imminent moving in together is the back-drop to this second volume, and it is not always smooth-running, especially when the property company Antonia works for is implicated in the case Leme is investigating.

Leme had become friendly with a young English investigative journalist called Ellie, helping her where he can to carry out her investigations into property developers clearing one of Sao Paulo’s favelas, Cracolândia.  Leme takes her to meet a contact, watching from the car – but when Ellie doesn’t come out of the building, he goes in and finds a very dead young man and Ellie’s phone on the floor.  Ellie’s disappearance ends up having links throughout the social strata of Sao Paulo, from the lowest dealers to the richest businessmen and politicians, with the police in the middle.

Thomas peppers the text with Portuguese slang – not always repeated in English – but you’ll get the gist without needing much translation (there is a helpful glossary at the end though).  Set during 2013, Leme is the perfect lens to see the city at its best and worst, as it experiences the seismic shift of redevelopment in the run-up to the World Cup 2014. Thomas is so good at highlighting the social make-up of the city through his flawed but likeable detective. Sao Paulo is very alive, vibrant, dangerous and oh so corrupt – the atmosphere  of Gringa drips with authenticity like Paradise City last year.  Sao Paulo is really the star of this book, and I can’t wait to read more about this intoxicating city.  (9/10)

Read more: Joe Thomas has written a recent piece for Bookanista here.

Source: Review copy – thank you.

Joe Thomas, Gringa (Arcadia Books, 2018) Hardback, 348 pages.

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