Nemesis – The Hunt For Brazil's Most Wanted Criminal by Misha Glenny

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Nemesis – The Hunt For Brazil's Most Wanted Criminal by Misha Glenny

Category: True Crime
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Chris Bradshaw
Reviewed by Chris Bradshaw
Summary: Goodfellas goes to Rio! Follow the sometimes thrilling, often terrifying ascent of one of one of Rio's biggest drug traffickers in this fast-paced and informative investigation from Misha Glenny.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: July 2016
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099584650

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Many of us have had a 'Sliding Doors' moment. A single incident that grabs life by the shoulders and shoves it in a completely new and unexpected direction. Few can have travelled quite so far, quite so quickly as Antonio Francisco Bonfim Lopes, aka Nem.

His amazing journey from 9 to 5 civilian to Brazil's most wanted criminal is told in Nemesis, an entertaining, and with the Rio Olympics just around the corner, very timely read from Misha Glenny.

Living with a young family in Rocinha, a favela in Rio, and with a decent job at a magazine distributor, Nem seemed long odds to even get involved in the drugs business, let alone one day become its kingpin.

Lacking the money for the medical care required by his sick daughter, Nem turned to Lulu, the Don of Rocinha, for a loan. As payment, he would become a member of Lulu's gang. On that single meeting was a life and a city was transformed.

So began an amazing rise. In the space of a few short years Nem had more than repaid his debt to Lulu and in the process become one of the Don's most trusted lieutenants. His meteoric rise eventually saw him become Don himself, the boss of the traffickers and the unofficial king of Rocinha.

It's safe to say that Nem's journey to the top was a little different from the usual Hollywood fairytales. Using many of the skills acquired from his civilian business life, Nem based his leadership on three central pillars: reputation within the community; acceptability to the local police; and authority within his organisation. The new Don had all three in abundance and used that dominance for the benefit of favela's residents. No juniors would be employed by the traffickers, no crack would be sold in Rocinha and muggings, robberies and petty crime were effectively prohibited.

Under Nem's enlightened dictatorship Rocinha prospered. The homicide rate compared favourably with many middle class areas and the legitimate economy expanded rapidly.

As anyone who's ever watched The Wire or Gomorrah knows (spoiler alert) noble(ish) intentions can quickly turn to dust (no pun intended) in the drugs business. That Glenny interviewed Nem in a high security jail attests to that.

On the surface, Nemesis could have been a straightforward rags to riches to rags again crime story. It's a testimony to Glenny (and his subject) that this is a far more informative read than that. Often reading like a thriller, it's also a quick, easy digestible primer on Brazilian history, the cocaine industry, the country's complex political structure and the mind blowing corruption that's seemingly endemic among the alphabet soup of law enforcement agencies.

You could leave your back door open when the Kray twins were running amok according to some misty-eyed cockneys. Does Glenny do the same and give Nem too much of a free pass? Perhaps. It's undoubtedly true that violence was bad for business and under Nem's watch it was curtailed. He was more interested in making money than anything else.

Perhaps the last word then should go to Jose Junior, the founder of the AfroReggae cultural movement. There are no good traffickers, just less bad ones. They are all bad – they all kill. The guys from Rocinha are more thoughtful than the rest, and Nem is a touch more humble. As favela drug Dons go, you probably can't hope for much better than that.

For more true crime we can recommend: Capital Crimes: Seven centuries of London life and murder by Max Decharne.

Buy Nemesis – The Hunt For Brazil's Most Wanted Criminal by Misha Glenny at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Nemesis – The Hunt For Brazil's Most Wanted Criminal by Misha Glenny at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Nemesis – The Hunt For Brazil's Most Wanted Criminal by Misha Glenny at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Nemesis – The Hunt For Brazil's Most Wanted Criminal by Misha Glenny at Amazon.com.


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