Brazilians like audacity. Perhaps it is a feature of the amiability that has featured in Brazilian culture for so long.  Nobody likes to take offence and nobody imagines giving offence.  The consequent audacity reveals itself in the arrogance of criminals and the size of the skimpy bikinis on the beaches.   Argentina is supposedly different, the people still like fun but they are quieter than the Brazilians.  The Argentineans invaded the Falklands slowly and in stages.  At first, nobody noticed.  The Brazilians would have marched in behind a parade.  Everybody would have had fun, and the Brazilian girls would have soon led the middle aged Falkland males astray.   The lustre of Thatcher may have bridged a cold Atlantic but she would have been obliterated by the Samba.

There is a fine crime novel set in Argentina that is written by Stuart Cohen.   The book is called ‘The Stone Angels’ and it begins with the murder of an American State employee.  The corrupt Buenos Aires policeman worries about an The Stone Angelsinternational scandal.   He fears American protest and an international investigation into the interference of the Argentinean Government in criminal investigations.   Dictatorships and oppression have made the Argentineans wary.

In Rio they react with more aplomb.   A fortnight ago Victoria Tcaciuc was found dead in a hotel in Rio.  The US Consulate in Rio stated that the 38 year-old Tcaciuc was a contract employee.  She was planning to visit four more Brazilian cities before returning to the States.  No other information has been provided about the murder victim.    There has been no outcry from the Americans, and their response is particularly muted.  The official statement is brief.   The Americans say that they are deeply saddened and add that they have passed on their condolences to relatives and friends.    If there is an international scandal buried in the details of this murder, we will not be told it by the Americans.   Of course, it helps when the suspected murderer walks past the CCTV.   The arrested man is called Alessandro Rufino Oliveira Carvalho.  He denies the murder.  He says he did visit the hotel but that they merely watched television while Tcaciuc smoked a cigarette.  He left the hotel room with the American State employee still alive.    According to Carvalho, he met the American woman at a craft fair.  This is hardly satisfying neo-noir.   When Carvalho insists he did not have sex with Tcaciuc, it is tempting to believe him.  But who knows what to think.  Brazilian hotels provide free contraceptives for hotel guests.  A hotel room is not the place to take a stranger and think you can remain chaste.  Some Brazilian men have been critical of Carvalho.  They consider him a poor and too timid example of Brazilian manhood.  And who wanders around craft fairs buying jars of marmalade and picking up foreign women so they can take you back to their hotel room and let you watch them smoke toasted tobacco.  This does not happen at the craft fairs of rural Britain.

These days South Americans are neither impressed nor intimidated by the USA.  Admittedly, oil is important but there is a belief in Brazil that the American obsession with the Middle East reflects not only US strategic interests but also their decline in power.    Scandals are now home grown and shock does not require dead visitors from once powerful countries.   Thuane Nunes Ferreira has been arrested for using artificial limbs to trick a biometric machine built to record the attendance of staff.    Instead of using real fingers to leave fingerprints with the machine, Ferreira signed people into work with artificial limbs. The police received an anonymous tip.  Whether the phone call was made with a real or silicone finger has not been revealed.    The police say that they have uncovered a fraud that involves 11 doctors and 20 nurses.  They suspect, though, that the fraud is more widespread.  The police think as many as 300 fictitious civil servants have been created using artificial fingers, ‘ghost workers’ who never appear in work.    Before making arrests, the police observed the hospital for 2 weeks.  The mathematics was simple.  Count the number of people passing by on the CCTV and subtract the number in the building.  The difference equals the missing artificial fingers, except the fingers used may not be from hospital stock.   The police have only found six and are reluctant to say that they know how they have been made.   The manufacturers of the tricked and less than perfect biometric machine have been coy.   Ms Ferreira has admitted guilt but has said that she had no choice.  Signing in ‘ghost workers’ with synthetic limbs was a condition of her employment.  Imagine telling Mum and Dad about that job interview.    Her boss, Jorge Cury, has insisted that the claims of Ferreira are ‘absurd’.

‘I knew nothing about it,’ he said.   ‘I have been a health official for 25 years.’

Critics of the public services are not surprised.  They believe that once everything is privatised staff will become dedicated and beyond reproach.   They claim that civil servants lack either talent or inspiration and that this makes them prone to corruption.

Bruno Fernandes had plenty of talent.  He was the former captain of Flamengo, a football team from Rio de Janeiro, and he was expected to play for Brazil in 2014.  Flamengo is one of the most successful teams in Brazil.  Fernandes has enjoyed money and fame but he was not particularly adept at domesticity.  Fernandes was sentenced to 22 years for murdering his lover.  The relationship tormented him, he said, and he either agreed with friends to murder Eliza Samudio or, if you listen to Bruno, simply failed to protest when his friends killed her.   They could stand seeing him suffer no more.

‘I didn’t know,’ said Bruno.  ‘I didn’t ask for it but I accepted it.’

Fernandes made this statement in court while he held a bible.  His lawyer has been watching too many Brazilian ‘telenovellas’.  Bible or cheap trick the judge was not impressed.  The

Bruno Fernandes

Bruno Fernandes

revelation that Bruno fed the remains of his wife to the dog did not help the accused.  In these circumstances the name Bruno is interesting.  The dog that ate part of the murdered woman has not been named.  The ex-wife of Fernandes was also charged in the conspiracy to murder.  She was acquitted.  She  offered consolation and understanding to her ex-husband in what must have been a difficult period in his life.

Bruno is appealing against the decision but there will be more than one governor who is already revising his or her plans for the prison football team.   The woman who was murdered leaves a four-month-old orphan.   According to friends, the arrival of the child affected the relationship badly.  Fernandes said that he was not the father of the child. The mother insisted that he was and that he should be making some maintenance payments from his not inconsiderable footballer’s pension.  The civil servants in Brazil who administer child maintenance are not surprised.  A lifetime in what is often difficult work, whatever the country, can disillusion even the most talented of civil servants.  Some of them even become cynical.

As Howard jackson is touring in Argentina at the moment, this blog is being used as a blast from the past.

Howard Jackson has had seven books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and collections of film criticism.   If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.



Fearflix 2

Ripper Sreet




‘You know the other man?’

‘With regret I do?’

This is how they talk in Ripper Street. It soon becomes addictive.

‘I shall get about it presently.’

How complicated conversation is without the present participle. Watch Ripper Street for half an hour and it is possible to imagine Henry James sitting barefoot and inventing Victorian slang. The dialogue in Ripper Street may be mannered and artificial but the style is sustained and effective. Anachronisms are few compared to most period drama, although the reference to ‘technology’ in the first episode of the fourth series was a bad error that jarred. This is being picky. Ripper Street has much to enjoy, and why the programme is no longer shown on BBC TV is a disgrace that must have something to do with Tory hostility and budget cutting, evidence of the continuing oppression of an enlightened bureaucracy.

The ornate dialogue keeps the actors happy which is fine because Ripper Street has a good cast. Mathew Macfadyen is tortured and sensitive, and his performance defines a complicated man who has principles but who is also preoccupied with his gifts and his destiny. Macfadyen is the star but the cameos are also important. The women have good faces that encourage the camera and us to linger. Lucy Cohu plays the Jewish woman that Reid should have dallied with longer. She has weary, wary, mysterious eyes that evoke unseen drama.


The names of the lead characters are great and, like the dialogue, they suit Gothic taste. The intellectually curious policeman played by Macfadyen is called Reid, and reading is what the curious do in their spare hours. For Reid knowledge requires understanding of what appals but that means loss of innocence and inevitable guilt. His anxious and haunted assistant is Bennet Drake. This bare-knuckle fighter has had a troubled past and he wears the bruises to prove it. His face looks like dough between rolls. His appropriate name evokes a man whose life has been a complicated journey, a traveller who has bobbed on the ocean between the coastlines of damnation and redemption.   Captain Jackson, the American pathologist and Miss Susan, the brothel owner, have a complicated relationship. In the early episodes they merely had the ‘hots’ for each other. Now they have discovered love, a commodity that in Ripper Street is complicated. Their affinity and conflict serve as a metaphor for the brutal early capitalism that the show relishes, the promise and the burden of appetite. Captain Jackson and Miss Susan have identities that, like their wilful characters, challenge traditional gender. No Mr and Mrs for those two.


Symbolism requires substance, and all the leading characters have psychological girth. The men, though, dominate the show. All the men are engaged in a chest beating struggle to conquer their weaknesses and somehow transcend failure. Reid is obsessive and narcissistic, too vain and self-important to live amongst flawed men and women. He is tempted by a retreat where he can listen to the ocean. In American movies the tortured visit lakes and gaze up at tall trees. In Britain we ponder the horizon. Drake lives in fear of his violence and his own considerable demons. The American emotions of hard drinking Captain Jackson are as combustible as the chemicals that he uses in his laboratory. Underneath the hedonism Jackson is a capable pathologist. The scenes from the Victorian laboratory and his performance are a highlight of the show and they explain how a gifted sensitive man is drawn to the brutal.


The women affect the plot but they are occupied in surviving and picking up the pieces left by self-destructive men. As some of those pieces fall from the women, they do share the drama. Miss Susan may love Captain Jackson, and ex-whore Rose is fond of Drake, but both need independent status and unencumbered space. Love exists in Ripper Street but it is peculiar. The men have emotional attachments that add little of benefit to their lives. They are like addicts who wonder what it would be like to have clean spirits. The women balance survival against commitment and the obligatory economic dependency. If the men are occupied with triumph, the women have secret plans. They have schemes for the future that are intended to inhibit the worst in their men.


In four series of the show no one has yet appeared who has made someone else happy. Series three ended with a glorious reunion between a father and daughter. In the first episode of series four that relationship is already frayed. The beautiful daughter, who was welcomed Dickens style into the middle class family, is now a difficult daughter curious about oral sex.

The latest BBC adaptation of War And Peace has cost the BBC £8,000 for every minute of the show. Ripper Street is less expensive but enough money was borrowed for fine production values. Gothic excess has always been well served by cinematic technology. Ripper Street has stylised CGI and a loud soundtrack but it avoids the brutal rock and roll bohemia of the appalling Peaky Blinders. In Blinders exaggerated characters created an artificial environment that accommodated adolescent fantasy. In Ripper Street strong characters are frustrated and reduced by the events and challenges of a bigger world. Malevolent villains exhaust the best of us but indifferent capitalism is also capable of horror. The victims of early industry suffer extreme hardship; the faces of the female matchmakers are eaten away by industrial pollution. The victims, though, are not romanticised. They are ignorant and, because they are powerless, obliged to be pathetic and harsh to each other. Compromised by corruption and surrounded by exploitation and degradation the men and women of Ripper Street are inadequate, their morals as shabby as their circumstances. Agents of change and protest do exist but, because they scramble to survive, they are selfish and narrow. This is how the history and progress required by the powerful tramples us all prior to extinction or, as the Fagin substitute says to a union leader, ‘The future times will roll over you.’  Despite the social conscience of Ripper Street the profit makers are the visionaries. The exploited are crude and ignorant. The imagination operates best when money is being counted.

The title of the series may be an example of crass commercialism but its debt to the East End legacy is paid by Ripper Street. London incubated industrial capitalism before anywhere else, and the horror of Whitechapel was as unexpected as the wealth gained by some.  The plots, like the times, are rooted in greed and opportunity. Reid is assailed by opportunists in commerce, the press, the police and even the reform movement. Neither does he trust women. Modern themes and conflicts mix with Victorian dynamism and ambition. All familiar travails are evident, gender, class, money, status, imperialism, racism and the alienation from work. It makes sense. This is where the problems began.


A walk around Whitechapel for the daughter of Reid reveals the exotic and forbidden but those who work there like her father understand what happens to the losers in a society based on aspiration and individualism. Isolated Whitechapel is the savage consequence of a contest needed by those desperate to combine profit with a clear but myopic conscience. Ripper Street has this political sensibility. This may deter the apolitical but without it the programme would be nothing more than bad taste Gothic. Because it is political, sometimes grudgingly like its characters, Ripper Street is more than the Victorian equivalent of the self-absorbed grotesquery in True Blood. The accusations of Dickens have been added to the Gothic mix and are essential. We observe the powerful and the powerless, the ruined and the deluded victors. Ripper Street is also restrained. It condemns violent protest. The policemen try to save lives and are willing to ignore fundamental grievances, compassion for the encountered rather than sympathy for a cause is what is important.

‘Save one life, you save the world entire,’ quotes Reid.

The existentialism may be dodgy and the syntax fake Latin but the sentence does explain the impulse to charity.

Relief from the contest is important to the characters of Ripper Street and usually it happens when they acknowledge their lovers. But there is nothing romantic about this acknowledgement. It is need and dependency not benevolence. Reid, Drake. Captain Jackson and Miss Susan are as destructive and as contrary as those in a Bergman movie. Even heart of gold Rose is fond of protest and is more than willing to come between Drake and his pipe and evening newspaper. Where will it end? Well, if the zombie hunters of The Walking Dead can follow a railway track for a whole series, the tortured souls of Whitechapel should be able to wander its twisted lanes for some time yet.

Howard Jackson has had four books published by Red Rattle Books. His 11,000 mile journey around Brazil is described in Innocent Mosquitoes. His latest book and compilation of horror stories is called Nightmares Ahead. Published by Red Rattle Books and praised by critics, it is available here.

If you want to read more about his travels click here.