Fiction Review: Bufo & Spallanzani by Rubem Fonseca

First published in 1985 (coincidently the year I was born), Bufo & Spallanzani, written by the renowned Brazilian writer Rubem Fonseca, combines different crimes and stories, tangled up by the murderer of Delfina Delamare, the wife of a millionaire.

The novel tells the story through Gustavo Flavio’s perspective, a writer in crisis that is struggling to start his next novel ever since he started his affair with Delfina Delamare. From start, he describes himself candidly and appears to have no shame on how he lives or lived his life: “Os memorialistas são escritores condenados ao rancor e à mentir. Comecei dizendo que sou um sátiro e um glutão, para me livrar do anátema — nada de mentiras, estabeleci logo.” (“The memorialists are writers condemned to resentment and lies. I started saying I’m a satirical and a glutton, to get rid of the anathema — no lies, I established right away”; 185).

The detective in charge of the murder investigation, Guedes, reminded me of Cole from Robert Crais’s L.A. Requiem, not so much a hard-boiled detective but not too far from it either: “Que diabo estava acontecendo com ele? Negligência? O policial negligente está a um passo do cinismo. O cínico a um passo da corrupção. Guedes deu um pontapé na lata de lixo, que rolou pela sala.” (“What the hell was happening to him? Negligence? The negligent cop it’s one step closer to cynicism. The cynical it’s one step closer to corruption. Guedes kicked the trash can, that rolled in the office”; 26). He knows when to be tough and plays his cards really well; a true detective for sure, one that makes Gustavo and all other suspects on edge from the beginning.

The novel brings characteristics of hard-boiled mysteries and cop thrillers — Fonseca, similarly to Joseph Wambaugh’s career, was a  police commissioner in Rio de Janeiro back in the early 1950’s —  but the story also has a pinch of Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes in it. And if that sounds too much for one novel, please bear in mind that the murder of Delfina Delamare is not the only crime committed and, in my opinion, is the least interesting plot in the book.

Source: Fonseca, Rubem. Bufo & Spallanzani. Nova Fronteira, 2013.

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