The Bishop of Presidente Vargas has flown in a corporate helicopter to the city of Cascatas, in the Brazilian interior, in order to open a new church. On landing he is assassinated by sniper fire. It is one of a number of murders that have happened in Cascatas in recent months, mostly the result of a dispute between the peasants of the Landless League and large landowners who dominate the local economy and wield power over the police and judiciary. In addition, street kids are being found dead on a regular basis. The death of bishop, however, brings Cascatas to the attention of government ministers and the federal police. Chief Inspector Mario Silva, a man driven by the need to deliver justice but prepared to twist the law to achieve it, is dispatched to the city. There he is met with resistance by the local state police as he tries to uncover the murderer, but as he picks away at the case, others start to turn up dead, killed by a brutal hand.
Blood of the Wicked is a crime novel meets social commentary, examining the nature of policing, justice, access to land and a livelihoods, street kids, liberation theology, and massive inequalities in wealth and power in Brazil. It would have been easy for Gage to drift into writing little more than a sermon on corruption and the injustices suffered by the peasant class in country, but he manages to keep the story of the investigation centre stage, with the social commentary drifting out through its telling. And it is a powerful tale, well told. The plotting is, for the most part, excellent, though I did feel the plot line with the journalist was closed off when it could have profitably been kept open and the deaths of several people with powerful connections would have meant the city being flooded with dozens of federal cops, not just Silva and two colleagues. But these are minor gripes. The characterization is strong across a range of characters, not just the principles, and Silva is a detective worth spending time with. Where the book excels is in its evocation of place and its social history and commentary. If you like your fiction to inform and educate as well entertain, then Blood of the Wicked is well worth a read.