Happiness is Easy by Edney Silvestre

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Happiness is Easy by Edney Silvestre

Category: Crime
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: When Olavo Bettencourt, spin doctor to the Brazilian political elite hears that his son has been kidnapped, he has one thought - he knows for sure that the boy taken is not his son. Silvestre's second novel is as hard-hitting as his first and delicately pulls away at a web of political corruption in a Brazil struggling to establish genuine democracy. Sharp, insightful and extraordinarily well-written.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: July 2014
Publisher: Doubleday
ISBN: 9780857521354

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Monday 20th August 1900. Silvestre sets store by dates in his books. Time is important. Time, he seems to feel, fixes everything we do, because of what everyone else is doing at that time. History winds on, or unravels, while we do what we do – but we are part of that history.

Until and unless someone might chose to write us out of it.

Maybe I'm reading too much into this. Or not enough. The thing is, to fully get the point of Silvestre's work you have to know Brazil far better than I do. Maybe you don't need to get the street references, but the history, the recent political history – knowing that would surely enrich your reading of this short book. Not knowing it, you'll read and be tempted to need to know it.

In a year in which the focus of much of our television coverage will be on Brazil, it's no bad time to start thinking about it.

But just so that you really want to go and find out, before you get to just thinking that it's just another sports competition and, frankly, you don't really care… just so that doesn't happen… find a spare afternoon and sit down with Happiness is Easy.

Monday 20th August 1990, a deaf and dumb, pale-skinned, blonde-haired young boy willingly climbs into the car outside his school. He recognises the driver. He is just being picked up as he usually is. Only this time will be different… this time there'll be a road block, and bullets and a death… the blonde blue-eyed boy who is not Olavo Bettencourt's son will be bundled away.

Bettencourt is basically an Ad-man. P.R. and commercials. He was purely commercials, until his associate cottoned on to the about of money to made in the newly emerging democracy of Brazil, from the politicians who would need to compete and campaign. Political campaigns are after all just another form of commercial. Olavo Bettencourt got in on the ground floor and knew, not just how to run a good campaign, but also how to manage the money that the politicians might not want to be seen to be handling themselves. This made him very rich and very powerful.

Or did it? Were the trappings of wealth and power really his to own, or was he just cloaked in them by those who needed to keep him on side?

To the kidnappers it doesn't matter. They know where the accounts are. They are professionals working for some disclosed organisation and whose money it actually is, doesn't matter. They will take Bettencourt's son and he will pay (with someone's money) to get him back.

It is a very simple plan.

It goes wrong.


We know from the beginning that the wrong child has been taken, and much of what follows is about explaining how this came to be. It also a walk back through the Bettencourts' past – about how the man amassed his power, but also about how he acquired his second and very beautiful wife. It is about their dysfunctional relationship. About Dona Mara, that wife, and how very unhappy she is, and how very unable to do anything at all about it.

Silvestre gives us a sleazy slice of the Brazilian political underworld mired in the corruption that will always result (in some quarters) where the difference between rich and poor is as marked as it is in Brazil (and as is becoming increasingly so in most of the rest of the world). It's a small picture, but it's laced with characters ranging from the utterly vile Bettencourt to those on the fringes of society doing what they legally and morally can to drag themselves up a rung or two, through those in the middle who shade their guilt with their goodness.

What will keep you turning the pages is the question of what will happen to the boy? But other characters will also capture your hope that maybe they can find their way – his mother (a simple housekeeper), Dona Mara (with her hidden past), the girl Barbara willing to clean classrooms and toilets and lie about it in order to pay her way through a college course that might give her a shot at a university entrance exam, and her father who finds that unacceptable. We get only snippets of their lives, but those snippets echo once the story is told.

The plot-line is simple, but the writing is electric. Internal monologues abound in the minds of the protagonists, in the slip-shod way we really think: half-sentences, questions, certainties circling back into questions. Conversations with ourselves, agonies we want to scream at those with us, prayers to our god, all lost in the mind as we say something banal, and put the water on to boil

Silvestre can capture a moment in an instant. One shot was enough. And he can drag it out over a page, in the lingering description of destruction caused by that one shot.

Heartily recommended. Silvestre's first novel If I Close My Now is a best-seller in his native Brazil. Happiness… is destined to follow suit, but also, I suspect to cement is emerging status as a writer of potentially international importance.

If you enjoyed this you'll love If I Close My Eyes Now or for more Brazilian crime check out Ganglands: Brazil by Ross Kemp

Buy Happiness is Easy by Edney Silvestre at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Happiness is Easy by Edney Silvestre at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Happiness is Easy by Edney Silvestre at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Happiness is Easy by Edney Silvestre at Amazon.com.


Booklists.jpg Happiness is Easy by Edney Silvestre is in the Top Ten Crime Novels of 2014.

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