Book review: Carioca Fletch by Gregory Mcdonald

Carioca Fletch by Gregory Mcdonald(Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)
Carioca Fletch Book Cover Carioca Fletch
Fletch #7 (in the stories' chronological order: #5)
Gregory Mcdonald
Fiction; Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
1984
Kindle e-book
190
Amazon.com / Overdrive

(Description from the publisher) Fletch's trip to Brazil wasn't exactly planned. But it's Carnival time in Rio and he has plenty of money. And it took him no time to hook up with the luscious Laura Soares. Fletch is beginning to relax, just a little.

But between the American widow who seems to be following Fletch and the Brazilian widow who's fingered Fletch as her long-dead husband, he suddenly doesn't have much time to enjoy the present or even get a wink of sleep.

A thirty-year-old unsolved murder, a more recent suicide, an inconvenient heart attack--somehow Fletch is connected to all of them and one of those connections might just shorten his own life. From Rio to Bahia and back again, at the height of Carnival, Fletch has to keep moving or get stopped cold.

Following a few months after the original book Fletch, Carioca Fletch begins with a jolt of plot as an old woman from one of the favelas of Rio de Janeiro identifies Fletch as the reincarnation of her long dead husband and wants to know who murdered him 47 years ago. Everyone apparently believes her wholeheartedly and there’s nothing Fletch can do but go along with what might be an elaborate joke. Nearly simultaneously Fletch runs across a widow who he says will think he killed her husband! And so the mystery begins???

Mcdonald does an excellent job of introducing the reader to a particular flavor of Brazilian culture which presages the pace of the plot. As a reader I felt nearly as frustrated with the pace of life and the style of culture (which heavily parallels the plot) as Fletch must have in his own evolving situation. This treatment makes me identify with I.M. much more closely than I might have otherwise, so kudos to Mcdonald for that.

As it turns out the woman Fletch initially dodges because he says she’ll think he killed her husband is Joan Stanwyk. She’s had him tracked down so that she can confront him about her husband’s death as well as a large amount of money that has gone missing. Seemingly only minutes later, Joan disappears just before Carnival and there isn’t much Fletch can do to find her. I had hoped for more mystery on this front, but the solution is wrapped up in a few scant pages right at the end.

Travelogue

There’s some great description and depiction of the Brazilian culture and the piece feels like a reasonable travelogue in some sense. Sadly it means it’s a bit thin on plot. Things start off with a nice bang, but then plod along for most of the book before things begin to pick up again in the last quarter of the book. There was so much more that Mcdonald could have done with the plot. Joan Stanwyk tracking down Fletch for a confrontation, Fletch and the Tap Dancers disposing of a friend’s body in a scene that presaged the entire plot of the film Weekend at Bernie’s (1989), the detective portion relating to who killed Junio all those years ago… Instead Mcdonald seemingly lets all the plot points work themselves out without any real work from our protagonist who just floats along through the culture. However, I will give him huge points from an artistic standpoint as he’s done a great job instilling a particular pace and cultural way of life into the text in such a manner that it really seems natural and satisfying that things work out the way they do.

Wrap up

Yet, in the end ultimately I’m conflicted as I’d have preferred more Fletchness, but I find it to have been enjoyable–at least it was better than Fletch, Too which still sits poorly with me.

I am left a bit adrift at the end with respect to the Tap Dancers who were so pivotal to most of the plot. What happened to the promised trip back to the brothel? Somehow they just seem to drift out of the plot.

Why wasn’t there better development of a romantic interest?

I don’t recall if this or something else set things in motion from a cultural standpoint, but as I recall the mid-80s, this would have ridden at the forefront of the zeitgeist of Brazillian culture in North America with several other books, television shows, and even movies which featured Brazil and even capoeira at the time.

Reading Progress
  • 8/7/16 marked as: want to read; “The Rio Olympics reminded me that I’d gotten Carioca Fletch to read back in the 80’s and never got around to it, so I thought I’d come back and revisit the series.”
  • 09/05/16 marked as: currently reading
  • 09/05/16 14.0% “An interesting start with a nice dash of the cultural part of what it means to be a Brazilian to set the stage of what is to come in the book. The reader is nicely made to feel the cultural clash of American and Brazilian along with the frustration Fletch surely feels.”
  • 09/09/16 34.0%
  • 09/10/16 61.0% “The plot seems to have slowed down significantly since the opening, but is just finally getting moving again.”
  • 9/13/16 71%
  • 09/16/16 100%
Highlights, Quotes, & Marginalia

“You have not heard of queima de arquivo?”

“It means ‘burn the record'” Marilia said.
“It means ‘cover up,'” Laura said. “It is the Brazilian way of life. That is why we are so free.”

—Loc 65 & 68: One of the motivating concepts within the book and an interesting life philosophy. There are dozens of appearances of the word burn throughout the book.

“Half your diet should be carbohydrates.”
“You’re reading about diets?”

—Loc 266: I find it interesting that this discussion predates some serious anti-carb literature that appears in the culture about a decade or more hence.

“Anyone can make up a story and say it is the past.”

—Loc 234

“Have you ever been paralysed?”
Toninho’s big brow eyes swelled. “I have the wisdom to know that one day I will be.”

—Loc 462: An interesting life philosophy

“É preciso terno?”
Such was a tourist joke. In Brazil a suit was never necessary.

—Loc 808

Fletch gathered in the stern line. “Not in the S.S. Coitus Interruptus.”

—Loc 1300

Colombo, a sparkling clean tearoom noted for its great pastry

—Loc 1958: Who can resist a pastry reference?

The sound is overpowering. It is perhaps the maximum sound the earth and sky can accept without cracking, without breaking into fragments to move with it before dissipating into dust.

—Loc 2287: Mcdonald does a really good job describing the music of Brazil throughout. I particularly liked this passage.

…cheering on the biggest and most amazing human spectacle in the world except war.

—Loc 2426: a nice description of Carnival; apparently one so apt that he uses it multiple times.

Then he remembered his other ear had slipped into the personality of a tomato.

—Loc 2560: great description of an ear after a brutal fight

“Fletch, you always seem to be someplace you’re not supposed to be, doing something you’re not supposed to be doing.”
“Got any other news for me?”

—Loc 2684: Quintessential Fletch description and rejoinder

Fletch had come back to life. He was in a closed coffin.

—Loc 2939: A great pair of sentences just by themselves, but they also have a nice parallelism to where Fletch is within relation to the plot at the time.

(a waitress to Fletch) “Have an accident?”
“No, thanks. Just had one.”

—Loc 2979: Witty dialogue

“I was worried about you. I’ve been stood up for dinner before, often, but seldom for breakfast.”
“Not very nice of me.”
“It’s okay. I had breakfast anyway.”

—Loc 2986: Witty dialogue

“I mean, everyone needs a vacation from life. Don’t you agree?”
“A vacation from reality.”

—Loc 3068

“She fell out of her cradle. She’s enjoying a few moments crawling around the floor.”

—Loc 3097: great description of a grown woman

“I learned some things.”
“I’d love to know what.”
“Oh, that the past asserts itself. That the dead can walk.” Fletch thought of the small carved stone frog that had been under his bed. “That the absence of symbols can mean as much as their presence.”

—Loc 3100

Edgar Arthur Tharp, Junior

—Loc 3106: Fletch indicates that this artist will be part of his future purpose; The name reappears in Confess, Fletch as a tangential part of the plot.

Intersting words
  • scudding
  • the sails luffed
  • sibilant
  • calunga doll
  • bateria of drums
  • maté
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