Brazilian artist and poet Ana Miranda tackles political intrigue in seventeenth-century Brazil in her first novel, Bay of All Saints and Every Conceivable Sin.
The center of the plot, and the figurative protagonist, is the city of Bahia, capital of Brazil from 1549 to 1763.
Bahia was an amoral place peopled by adventurers of all nationalities--the equivalent of the rough-and-tumble outlaw towns of the Old West or the exotic Casbah in Algiers. here, fortunes were won and lost and vice and corruption were the order of the day--hence the novel's title.
The story begins with the murder of the Captain-General of Bahia, a corrupt politician and the Governor's flunky. The Governor orders an investigation and detains suspects who are members of the aristocratic Ravasco family, his archrivals.
Consequently, Bahia is divided into factions: one supports the Governor, the other is in favor of the Ravascos. What follows is a melange of arrests, murders, machinations and comic ribaldry.
The novel's opening pages are plodding and somewhat confusing, but once the reader catches hold of the plot-strings, Miranda's book becomes a satisfying pageturner.
Bay of All Saints and Every Conceivable Sin
by Ana Miranda
She presents a gallery of fascinating characters. The vengeful Governor, Antonio de Souza de Menendez, has a prosthetic arm made of solid silver and is painfully self-conscious of his gruesome looks.
Gregorio de Matos, a priest, judge, satirist, poet, scholar, theologian and the best-known lover and whoremonger in all of Bahia, recites Gongora to prostitutes in his favorite brothel. He writes scathing satires on the Governor's physical attributes and probable impotence. De Matos eventually emerges as the hero, for, despite his many peccadilloes, he has a keen sense of right and wrong.
Miranda fails to build convincing suspense, and the dialogue is laughable at times, although this may be the translator's fault. The author manages, however, to transport the reader to a highly-charged and colorful location with de Matos as guide.
Once she gains the reader's good will, he or she follows her to every corner of Bahia, from the Governor's palace and the Jesuit College to the ubiquitous brothels and country estates.
The novel's grand sense of humor, in fact, is reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera.
Miranda's book may be uneven, but any novel with a silver-armed villain who suffers from an inferiority complex, an ecclesiastical hero driven by lust and armed with Gongora and a rapier tongue and set in a city where the whores exert the most influence--is irresistible.