Friday 22 April 2011

Dancing With Myself: LEIGHTON GAGE interviews LEIGHTON GAGE


You’re a Yank. What qualifies you to write novels set in Brazil?

I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else – more than thirty years.

Why would you want to? Poor as it is?

Brazil isn’t poor. It’s a rich country – with a lot of poor people.


We’re the eighth economy in the world.

Our GNP is greater than that of all the other countries in South America combined.

We have the largest fleet of private helicopters and the largest fleet of private jets outside of the United States.

We have an auto industry, a computer industry, an aircraft industry and a space industry.

When it comes to the generation of energy, we’re independent in terms of natural gas and petroleum, have the world’s most successful biofuel program, generate hydroelectric power in abundance and have numerous nuclear power plants running on our own uranium.

The country is larger than the continental United States, but with a population of less than 200 million, and arable land throughout, we not only grow enough to supply the needs of our population, but also to rank as the world’s largest exporter of beef, soybeans, orange juice, chickens and a number of other food products.

And our soil is rich in iron ore, bauxite and gold.

But you’re right about one thing: there’s a great deal of poverty. That stems from the fact that most of the land, and the money, are concentrated in the hands of a few.

And that doesn’t bother you?

Of course it does. But it’s changing – and changing rapidly. The wealthy may control the land and the money, but they don’t control the elections.

Every Brazilian citizen over the age of eighteen is required to vote. It’s the law. You can be fined, or even go to jail, if you don’t.

The system does away with voter apathy and produces statesmen like Lula da Silva.

Lula never got past the fifth grade, but was elected president of the republic. He was raised in poverty, understands it and took steps to counter it. His hand-picked successor, Brazil’s first female president, is doing the same thing.

When Lula left office in January, after serving two consecutive terms, his approval rating was 84%.

How many leaders in Western Europe or the United States have managed to rise from such humble beginnings? And how many can make a claim to that kind of popularity?

No revolutions? No dictatorship?

Not anymore. These days, Brazil is a stable democracy. No wars, either. The last one Brazil fought was as an ally of the Brits and the Americans during WWII. Prior to that, it was a border conflict with Paraguay that ended in 1870. Young Brazilians don’t die in international conflicts. And very few of them die in natural disasters. Brazil doesn’t have earthquakes , or tsunamis, or hurricanes, or tornados. Our causes of sudden death are largely limited to traffic accidents, landslides, floods – and murder.

I was wondering when you’d get around to that. So Brazil isn’t all moonshine and roses?

Far from it.

We have more than our fair share of corrupt politicians, venal judges, and crooked cops. My home town is one of the murder capitals of the world, and Rio de Janeiro, a scant 400 kilometers away, doesn’t lag far behind. More cops are killed there, each year, than in all of the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom put together.

Whenever I’m in need of crime-writing inspiration, all I have to do is to pick up a newspaper.

Where did your protagonist, Mario Silva come from?

In a former life, I used to direct documentary films. One day, I read about a Brazilian who’d just returned from a course at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. It’s on the same campus as the Academy that trains federal agents, but it’s a different institution. They provide advanced education to senior cops.
I thought this fellow’s story might make for an interesting film, and I actually shot some footage with him. He had no camera presence, though, and I abandoned the project – but not without learning a great deal about the lives of Brazilian cops.

Somewhat later, I made the acquaintance of a law-school colleague of my brother-in-law’s, a fellow who commanded São Paulo’s (750 men strong) murder squad. By that time, I was thinking about writing a novel, and I asked him if I could accompany his people for a few days to get a feel for how they approached their work and pick their brains.

Which you did?

Which I did, and I profited mightily from it. It’s lent verisimilitude to all of my books.

The guys you observed were city cops in São Paulo. Why did you decide to make Mario a federal cop and move him to Brasilia?

In Brazil, there’s no DEA, no ATF, no Secret Service. And most local police departments don’t have an internal affairs division. All of those tasks, and more, are within the purview of the Federal Police – an organization that can otherwise be compared to the American FBI.

Making Mario federal gave me a chance to involve him in just about every kind of crime there is. As to Brasilia, I wanted him to be sufficiently senior to have autonomy in conducting his investigations. To be senior, he had to be stationed in the federal capital. That’s where all of the senior people in his organization are located.

Other than police procedurals, how would you classify your books?

As entertainment for intelligent people.

Intelligent people?

Yes. You can check out the beginning of each book on my website:

If you go there, and are entertained by what you read, it qualifies you as intelligent.

I’m a highly intelligent person, and I intend to read all your books. Should I tackle them in order of publication?

That might be best. Blood Of The WIcked, the first book, introduces most of the recurring characters. And there’s a particularly nasty villain in Buried Strangers that comes back to haunt Mario and his companions in Dying Gasp. Every Bitter Thing is the latest, launched in the US in January of this year. That one, I think, could be read out of order. (It’s a book, by the way, that the New York Times called “irresistible”.)

What’s next?

A Vine In The Blood. It will go up in the Kindle UK store (and on Kindle outside of the US and Canada) in April. At a very good price, too – substantially less than folks in North America are going to have to pay for it when their hard cover comes out in December.


  1. This was a very interesting interview...I really liked the concept of interviewing yourself! You did it well and I must check out your work...BTW, I love anything from Brazil! :) (jink willis)

  2. Fascinating stuff, I really enjoyed that. Your books sound great too - I'm off to your website to check 'em out.

  3. I started with EVERY BITTER THING, went back and read the entire series. I'm a little bit giddy over Silva and his team of detectives, can hardly wait for A VINE IN THE BLOOD.

  4. Jeanna,
    Thank you. If you love stuff from Brazil, might I suggest that you check into our blog, Murder is Everywhere? We are seven authors of "international mysteries", but we seldom write about our books or the craft of writing. Our posts deal with subjects of cultural, historical or human interest that occur (or have occurred) in the countries in which we set our stories.
    My day is Monday, and there is a considerable archive of my past posts. Stuff like the Death of Percy Fawcett and American Confedrates in Brazil. Check it out at:

  5. Julie,
    I hope you like what you see. I might launch an "interim" book, on Kindle, in September. Unfortunately, my publisher holds me to only one print book a year. And I'm beginning to discover that I can write a bit faster than that.

  6. Naomi,
    Have you got a Kindle?
    If you do, please drop me a line through my website at

  7. Not sure what happend to my first comment. I enjoy the interview with yourself. I'll have to check out your novels, they sound interesting. And thanks for the friendship on Facebook.

  8. Hi Steve,
    And I shall certainly check out your books as well.

  9. Sad to hear the news about Leighton. I think this interview is full of life. Thoughts go out to family and friends.