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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Bellini and the Sphinx

Tony Bellotto

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To purchase Bellini and the Sphinx

Title: Bellini and the Sphinx
Author: Tony Bellotto
Genre: Novel
Written: 1995 (Eng. 2019)
Length: 270 pages
Original in: Portuguese
Availability: Bellini and the Sphinx - US
Bellini and the Sphinx - UK
Bellini and the Sphinx - Canada
  • Portuguese title: Bellini e a esfinge
  • Translated by Clifford E. Landers
  • Bellini e a esfinge was made into a film in 2002, directed by Roberto Santucci

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Our Assessment:

B : fine, light PI tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 26/11/2018 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "(S)tarts off strong but falls flat in its overly familiar execution. (...) (T)he dialogue lacks the sharp grittiness of the hardboiled fiction of Hammett or Chandler -- Bellotto’s obvious influences -- and the ending feels pulled out of thin air." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Bellini and the Sphinx is the first in a series of novels narrated by Remo Bellini. In his early thirties -- he celebrates his thirty-third birthday over the course of the novel --, he had initially followed in his father's footsteps and become a lawyer but abandoned that field and is now a private eye in São Paulo, working for Dora Lobo for the past year. He's also been married, but that, too, didn't work out and he's now been divorced for a couple of years. Among his other baggage is his name, which he detests, and the story behind it, his father having named him and his twin brother after the mythical Rome-founding twins, Romulus and Remus -- only for Romulo to die after just two days.
       Each chapter in Bellini and the Sphinx covers one day, from 17 May through 7 June. The case he is presented with by his boss seems fairly straightforward: a pediatric surgeon, Dr.Rafidjian, is desperate to find a young woman, Ana Cíntia Lopes, a dancer at a nightclub who apparently disappeared a few weeks earlier. But there's no trace of her -- indeed, no one recalls anyone by that name. Bellini and a colleague follow up with dancers who left the club around the time in question who might be the missing woman, under a different name -- but things take a turn when Dr.Rafidjian is found brutally murdered.
       With their client dead there's nothing left to investigate -- for a while. But when his widow hires Dora Lobo they're back on the now expanded case again -- still looking for the mystery woman, and wondering what straight-laced family-man Rafidjian might have been up to.
       Dora Lobo is particularly pleased to get a chance to investigate this puzzling case -- it's the sort of thing that is right up her alley:

"You're going to hit the street looking for hidden connections in Rafidjian's life. Start by finding out what the police learned. Boris will be glad to know we're back. He and I have solved some lovely cases. Difficult, intricate, magnificent case --"
     "What makes a case magnificent ?" I cut in.
     "A case that can't be solved by either logic or science. A case solved almost by accident."
       Bellini does a lot of the legwork -- Dora Lobo mainly sits at her desk and commands her underlings around -- but he's only a contributor to solving the case, making good contacts and obtaining useful information but not putting everything together; unusually for a PI novel, it's the boss that is presented as figuring out the puzzle and pointing the finger at the guilty party, despite her otherwise fairly secondary role in the narrative.
       Bellini is fine with his role. He keeps busy -- and odd hours --, mainly doing fairly basic work, seeking out people for information, with the occasional more challenging and dangerous snooping around. Some distractions help -- he's tempted by cocaine, but ultimately limits his reliance on it, but female pleasures are harder to resist. In particular, there's Beatriz, the new intern at Dora Lobo's, a twenty-three-year-old student whom he finds himself very much attracted to -- and hits it off with.
       Beatriz is unsure of what kind of career she wants to embark on -- she's a law student, but is thinking of giving it up for psychology. She also is carrying around some baggage -- and coy about what it is, leaving Bellini (repeatedly) guessing. Her hints don't help much:
I don't have any problem with sex. Just the opposite, I love sex. My pain is more serious. Deeper.
       On their first date, Bellini takes her to the restaurant where he had proposed to his wife three years earlier; unsurprisingly, his relationship with Beatriz -- who helpfully suggests he could really do with some psychoanalysis, and even sets him up with a professional -- proceeds somewhat awkwardly and inconclusively (complicated by there being a another convenient woman in the picture). Still, it makes for another element in the otherwise investigation-focused story, and allows Bellini to reveal and reflect on his various issues (without taking them all too seriously).
       There's a decent rhythm to the narrative, Bellotto sometimes falling back too much on PI-atmosphere -- Bellini's mentions of the music he listens to (a lot of blues ...) -- but mostly keeping a light touch with all of Bellini's baggage (his name, father issues, his ex-wife). Some things don't work that well -- Beatriz's dark secret, and an unfortunate fixation on tuna sashimi (and what it might resemble) -- but overall Bellini and the Sphinx is an enjoyable light ride, with enough variety to keep readers interested. The case and its solution aren't particularly surprising in their turns, but there's enough surrounding it, and Bellini, to make for a decent read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 26 April 2019

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Bellini and the Sphinx: Reviews: Bellini e a esfinge - the film: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Brazilian author Tony Bellotto was born in 1960.

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© 2019-2021 the complete review

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