Bellini and the Sphinx
Remo Bellini is a mess. Before becoming a private detective in the Brazilian megalopolis of Sao Paulo, Bellini was all set to live out a staid, upper middle-class life as a married criminal attorney. Then, somewhere around age 30, Bellini decided that his respectable life was an illusion—an illusion he decided to shatter by taking a job with Dora Lobo, the head of a private detective agency located at the Italia Building.
Illusions, riddles, and general confusion populate Bellini and the Sphinx. However, mystery is nowhere to be found. Tony Bellotto’s detective novel is not a whodunit, but rather a whocares. Although billed as a tribute to the great Raymond Chandler, Bellini and the Sphinx has none of Chandler’s streetwise poetry, colorful characters, or philosophy. The only Chandlerian element in this breezy read is its intricate plot.
Basically, Bellini is pulled into multiple cases at once. The first and most important case involves Dr. Rafidjian, a pediatric surgeon who hires the Lobo agency in order to find a missing stripper named Ana Cintia Lopes. Bellini tracks down one missing stripper from the Dervish nightclub in the northern state of Para, while Beatriz, a new detective, tracks down another. Both turn out to be dead ends as Ana Cintia Lopes does not exist (or at least does not live in Brazil).
When Dr. Rafidjian is brutally murdered by someone wielding an umbrella, the missing person case becomes a murder case. But even here the P.I.s are stymied because the police rush ahead to solve the case by nabbing a gay prostitute from Chile who had carried on a sexual affair with the late surgeon. He is innocent of course, and the Lobo detectives continue trying to find Dr. Rafidjian’s true killer.
In the end, Bellini does not solve anything. Dr. Rafidjian’s murderer is uncovered by Lobo herself, and this conclusion comes at the very end and is pulled off without any build-up or summation of the available clues. The case is solved because Lobo is conversant in ancient Greek literature.
As for Bellini, our protagonist is a boozehound who sleeps all day and cannot stop listening to the same three or four blues artists every day. He’s the typically jaundiced private dick, but unlike Spade, Marlowe, or Archer, he’s a bum who fails to solve any problem in this book. The only thing that Bellini can accomplish is sexual release. He sleeps with two women in this book—the prostitute Fatima and fellow detective Beatriz. His relationship with Beatriz brings out the pervert in Bellini, for, in one simultaneously nauseating and hilarious scene, he compares Beatriz’s feminine parts to food: “I eagerly penetrated her tuna sashimi . . .”As if this weren’t bad enough, the pair’s budding relationship ends due to unrequited incest. Yes, you read that right.
Bellini and the Sphinx may earn followers because of the exoticism of Brazil and because of the salacious nature of Bellini’s sex life. However, this is not a book that you read for plot or resolution. This is not a book you read for lyricism either, even though Bellotto is a famous rock musician in his native country.
Bellini and the Sphinx is a subpar mystery novel with occasional flashes of interest.