So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

A Samba for Sherlock

A Samba for Sherlock by Jô Soares
Originally published in Brazil in 1995 as O Xangô De Baker Street and translated into English in 1997, this novel features Sherlock Holmes and his partner Dr. John Watson being summoned to Rio by the real life actress Sarah Bernhardt who, on the first stop of her 1886 world tour, suggests to the Emperor of Brazil that the famous detective may help him find a stolen Stradivarius violin. While they are on board ship to Rio matters take a macabre turn as a prostitute is found in an alley stabbed to death with a violin string curled into her pubic hair and a flap of skin cut from her body. So when they arrive, it is not only a theft, but a murder they are asked to solve.

The author José Eugênio "Jô" Soares is a Brazilian television talk show host known for his observational comedy, surreal humor, and deadpan style, and this is his first novel. He takes liberties with his portrayal of Sherlock making the book both humorous as well as a mystery. I fear that a lot of his Brazilian humor gets lost in translation to an American audience. His willingness to make the detective the butt of much of his humor may not endear this work to diehard Holmesians. Readers willing to go along with the joke may find his portrayal a lot of fun.

Soares fills the book with a large cast of characters, as well as locational and historic details, that make it a rich and rewarding experience. I have not come across many novels like this one where the author provides a five page Bibliography of references, although I am sure other authors have done even more research than he in creating their historical fiction. I found it hard to keep track of all the names of the players and, even though the book came with a detailed endpaper map of Rio, impossible to follow the geographic references. So while I enjoyed the book, I was left feeling I had missed half the jokes, found the cast of characters confusing, and was in the dark on most of the local references.

The book was made into an award winning Portuguese/Brazilian movie O Xangô de Baker Street in 2000.