Lost World, By Patricia Melo trans Clifford Landers

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The Independent Culture

Ten years have passed since the events of Patrícia Melo's thrilling and sometimes vicious novel of the Brazilian underworld, The Killer. Máiquel, her erstwhile gun-for-hire, has packed in the assassination business, though he remains a fugitive on the wrong side of the law (and he still knows how to handle a weapon when deadly violence is called for). This follow-up sees him travelling the country on the trail of his ex-girlfriend, Érica, and her new husband, Marlênio, a couple wealthy on the proceeds of their powers of religious conviction. Marlênio is a pastor, Érica a bishop, and there is good money to be made from selling the wonders of God to the desperate poor.

When Érica abandoned Máiquel a decade ago, she also kidnapped his baby daughter Samantha. And now, suddenly, the fugitive has decided he wants his child back. If possible he would also like the chance to kill pastor Marlênio along the way yes, that would be satisfying, too. So with his newly acquired dog Tiger, Máiquel begins his unappealing road-trip from dingy, sprawly city to grim, dusty town, passing through a series of cheap hotel rooms, picking up and discarding women, evading capture by the police and resolutely pursuing his quarry.

Máiquel's Brazil is a country of random violence, corruption, unrest, double-dealing and adultery, petty crime, deforestation, drug-running and every bit as predatory the church of the evangelists wringing a tithe from the very poorest people they can get their hands on and thriving on the proceeds. What sense we get of the professional zealots Érica and Marlênio comes through Máiquel's partisan eyes, and (surprisingly?) our sympathy remains closer to our hot-blooded killer than to his intended victims.

Mass murderer Máiquel may be, but as a narrator he is more sophisticated not without remorse (if a little quick to pull a trigger), and not without a moral code of his own. Confident and fragile at once, he is hunted and hunter. Melo's thriller, well served by Clifford Landers's clean, punchy translation, grips tight as it speeds to its breathless climax. It's a quick, sharp shock of a read, but underlain with moral ambiguity, not to say ambivalence about the fascinating Máiquel, whose voice and presence seem to linger even after the pulse has stopped racing.

Daniel Hahn's translation of Jos Eduardo Agualusa's 'Rainy Season' is published by Arcadia