cover image The Killer

The Killer

Patricia Melo. Ecco Press, $23 (217pp) ISBN 978-0-88001-574-5

""The essence of man, the material he's made of, is something black and stinking."" Such is the world according to Maiquel, professional murderer and the protagonist of this taut debut from Brazillian screenwriter Melo. Maiquel starts out as just another unemployed youth in Sao Paolo with a terrible toothache; but after a mild exchange in a bar, he kills a man in order to impress a girl. The ploy works. He winds up marrying the girl, named Cledir--and soon discovers that his victim had lots of enemies. Pretty soon, Maiquel is showered with gifts from grateful neighborhood merchants and respect from the local police. And when he goes to get his tooth looked at, the dentist offers to fix all his teeth in exchange for another murder. It isn't long before Maiquel, with police cooperation, runs a full-fledged ""security"" business and is being bestowed with Citizen of the Year awards. Such a set-up, of course, is doomed to end badly (particularly for poor Cledir), but the grisly plot is not what keeps the reader engrossed. Maiquel is a wonderfully complicated antihero, one who quotes passages from classical poetry and frets about whether or not his victims deserve to die. He is insecure about moving through the middle-class world, forever comparing his shoes to those of the men around him and taking it as an ambiguous sign of his success that he has learned ""to laugh with a whiskey glass in [his] hand."" Melo's writing throughout is plain but sure-handed: her biggest triumph is the creation of a killer who is, at moments, a strangely, surprisingly moral man. (Oct.) FYI: A filmed version of The Killer is already in production in Brazil.