Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza didn’t take his first stab at writing fiction until he was 59. A professor of psychology and philosophy at Rio de Janeiro’s Federal University, ensconced in psychoanalytical and philosophical theory, he wrote The Silence of the Rain, the first in his Inspector Espinosa mystery series, in 1996.
With trepidation, he sent it to Companhia das Letras, one of the top publishing houses in Brazil. “Much to my surprise,” he says, “it was not only accepted but later won the Nestlé de Literatura and Jabuti, two of the most prestigious literary prizes here.”
Buoyed, he quit his job in 1998. Now 72, he has eight novels to his name. The six previous titles in the Espinosa series (all available in the United States) have been translated from Portuguese into seven languages, and in July 2009, Alone in the Crowd, the seventh, was published in the United States, continuing Espinosa’s psychological adventures.
The prolific pace is due to a disciplined approach: every day, from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M., Garcia-Roza sits down in his office in Rio de Janeiro to write. When he needs a break, he gazes out the window or walks around the city that continues to inspire his Inspector Espinosa series. He recently paused to talk with AARP Segunda Juventud.
Q. Alone in the Crowd is the seventh novel featuring veteran police chief Inspector Espinosa. What about this character continues to fascinate you?
A. Espinosa isn’t a superhero who lives surrounded by tanned blondes. He’s like your neighbor or someone you would greet every day on the street and not even know his position. He’s reserved, well educated, and an avid reader. Because he’s a common man, readers identify with him. To give you a sense of this, people don’t ask me when my next book is coming out; they ask for the next Espinosa.
Q. How does Alone in the Crowd fit in with the rest of the series?
A. The central character is the same, and all of the books take place in Rio de Janeiro. The fact that they all share a main character and setting, however, doesn’t imply that you need to be familiar with the others. The books are completely independent of one another. The reader can read the last book first, the first book last, or in any other order they choose.
Q. How does Inspector Espinosa compare with other detective characters our readers may also be familiar with, like Hercule Poirot, Ellery Queen, Philip Marlowe, and Sherlock Holmes?
A. He’s certainly not Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe or Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade. When authors write, they often try to create exceptional characters, like Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. I like these authors and characters a lot, but Espinosa doesn’t seem like these; he’s sort of like a character you may find in Georges Simenon or Lawrence Block. It’s very difficult to make precise comparisons because Espinosa is a common man. He’s an ordinary public official.
Q. You capture the inner workings of Inspector Espinosa’s mind by showing how he trails a developing case using intuition and relentless questioning. What kind of research did this require?
A. I conducted research before I wrote my first book, because I hadn’t even entered into a police station. I asked a friend of mine who is a criminal lawyer to take me to one and show me how it functions. That helped add an authenticity to my character and story. But since then I never research extensively. I usually begin with an image or situation and begin to unravel a story that I attempt to structure and use to create a plot.