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      Patricia Melo: The Body Snatcher.

        Bitter Lemon Press, £ 8.99.    

The Body Snatcher is a fine tale and well told.  The book is a pleasure to read and it entertains the reader from the first page to the last.  The story is simple and elegant.   Like the thriller Heaven’s Prisoner’s by James Lee Burke, the plot of The Body Snatcher begins when a plane crashes into a lake.  The hero steals drugs from the dead pilot, and the rest happens.

Although translated from Brazilian Portuguese, the prose in English is stylish and has impact.  Both Burke and Melo know how to turn a sentence but the writing of the American is more elaborate and has deliberate invention.  There is more mystery in the sentences of The Body Snatcher. The invention by the author feels natural and spontaneous.  This means that the book is a fabulous read. 

There are no contrived surprises or twists in The Body Snatcher.   This is praise.  The tension and delight are created by the route into crime and chaos that the hero feels obliged to follow.  No character in The Body Snatcher agonises over their destiny.  Brazil is too damaged by corruption and inequality for ordinary people to worry about ambition and purpose.  They try to exist and survive.  In a world controlled by the unseen powerful, individual responsibility is minimal.  But human beings need others, and that makes life worse rather than better because they do more damage when the inevitable lies about weakness and failure happen.  When the hero watches the TV News, he is consoled by it being irrelevant to him.  He is reassured to know that there are calamities that do not affect him.  The world is not great anywhere and that calms him.

If the hero has a name, it must have been used rarely.  I only remember other characters giving him nicknames.  Although powerless and reduced, the hero is obliged to make decisions.  True to my own memories of Brazil he alternates between gentle self-justifying morality and sensuous sleaze.   De-humanized by the casual cruelty and greed that defines others, the  inadequate conscience of the hero leads him to a world where survival is as tragic as death.  The errors of humans in The Body Snatcher are not the product of the wilful natures we find in ancient tragedy.  Instead we have bewildered human beings making a mess. This is the modern world.

The male voice of the narrator is spot on accurate and a real accomplishment by a female writer.  Melo manages to expose male weakness while avoiding doctrinaire condemnation.  The humour in The Body Snatcher is dark and subtle and convinces the reader to continue.  The language used in the book, though, has a purpose beyond mere style.  The repetition and familiar adverbs create a sense of increasing pressure and few options.  Often the dialogue is included in the same paragraph as narration.  This suggests the confusion that exists inside the mind of the hero. 

The marvellous atmospheric first chapter of book begins with the sentence, ‘We flounder in the heat.’  The reader will finish The Body Snatcher and have the satisfaction of knowing what Melo means.

By Howard Jackson