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11 august 2017

The original title of Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza's detective novel Blackout is Espinosa sem saída: "Espinosa at a dead end," in several senses. One is literal. The dead body that kicks off the mystery in Blackout is found in a cul-de-sac, a beco sem saída. But there seems no way to make any progress on the case – it's a dead end – and ultimately, the whole affair is full of existential horror. No Exit for Espinosa.

The title of Benjamin Moser's translation Blackout refers to a character that we follow in chapters alternating with those from Espinosa's point of view. Aldo is a young architect who has only potentially and transiently seen something that may clear up the mystery of the cul-de-sac. He didn't see anything – or rather, ominously, he can't remember seeing anything, because he's been having these timeskips lately. He can't even remember where he put the revolver he used to own.

We also follow Aldo's wife Camila, a psychotherapist who can't seem to resist fondling her women patients. Espinosa, in the best traditions of Maigret and Columbo, quickly becomes obsessed with both Aldo and Camila, visiting them often, posing awkward questions. I can't remember if he says "just one more thing" after turning to go, but he might as well.

Espinosa is a literary sort. On his way to his interviews with Camila, he keeps stopping at a bookstore. In an homage to the bricolage that is contemporary detective fiction, at one point he gets the idea of building a bookcase for his growing collection – out of the books themselves.

The mystery falls together in a weird and preposterous way that you see coming, reject for implausibility, marvel that Garcia-Roza carries off anyway, and I won't spoil here. It's full of the local color of Copacabana and Ipanema, the high-rent, carefree side of Rio de Janeiro. And at 243 pages, Blackout doesn't even begin to outstay its welcome.

Garcia-Roza, Luiz Alfredo. Blackout. [Espinosa sem saída, 2006.] Translated by Benjamin Moser. New York: Holt, 2008. PQ 9698.17 A745E8713