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Missing Head of Damasceo Monteiro [Paperback]

Antonio Tabucchi
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 19 2003
Monteiro had blundered onto a drug scam and needed to be silenced. Firmino, a cub reporter, is torn away from his fiancee and sent up to Oporto to cover the murder inquiry. Here he meets the corpulent, cigar-smoking lawyer called in to pin the blame where it ought to belong.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

As in his previous novel, the 1994 international bestseller Pereira Declares, Tabucchi, professor of Portuguese literature at the University of Siena in Italy, explores Portugal's politics and culture through the eyes of a journalist. This time his protagonist is Firmino, a young reporter who's also a literature student and whose lofty preoccupation with his academic thesis frequently conflicts with the more earthbound assignments his editor at a Portuguese national scandal-sheet demands. He travels, reluctantly, from Lisbon to the provincial town of Oporto to investigate the gruesome discovery of a headless body found on the edge of a Gypsy encampment. Firmino's sleuthing is assisted by antifascists?the Gypsy who discovered the body, a mysteriously well-connected hotel proprietress, a waiter and a sweaty, heavy-set aristocratic lawyer who defends the unfortunate. It is through literary discussions with the lawyer, Don Fernando, that Firmino learns the legal system of Oporto, the process of investigation and the role journalism can play in bringing a murderer to court. Tabucchi fills his contemporary literary thriller with the kinds of benevolent, humanitarian characters he explored in Pereira, which was set in pre-WWII Portugal; here he delves into the deplorable subjugation of the Gypsies, and finds champions of a just social order in the humbler strata: a transvestite prostitute, an errand-boy drifter. Tabucchi's memorable, conflicted characters are sometimes implausibly altruistic in helping outsider Firmino, and the plot involves the kind of requisite drug-trafficking/police cover-up that weakens the suspense of a thriller. However, it's Tabucchi's setting that breathes life into his work: the reader can almost feel the heat of the Iberian peninsula and experience along with Firmino the unique customs, foods and political climate of Oporto.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Elegant, cosmopolitan, inventive, and disquieting; his writing is, paradoxically, sensuous and economical. -- The Boston Review

For more than a decade...Tabucchi has provided in his enigmatic fiction an insightful perspective on modern culture. -- The Book Review, Kenneth Scambray, 10 August 2000

His elliptical use of allusions lends this thriller's bare events an intriguing range of philosophical and political overtones. -- Review of Contemporary Fiction, Thomas Hove, Fall 2000

The missing head of the title doesn't go missing for very long, so obviously the book is after deeper fish, and is not simply a tale of lost and found... -- Easy Reader, Bondo Wyszpolski, 24 February 2000 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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First Sentence
Manolo the Gypsy opened his eyes, peered at the dim light creeping through the cracks in his hovel, and got to his feet trying not to make a sound. Read the first page
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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Extremely Well-Written and Surprisingly Light Sept. 30 2000
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Like many of Tabucchi's other works, this book is set in Portugal, and this time most of the action takes place in the more provincial northern city of Oporto. The novel opens there as Manolo the gypsy finds a headless body.
The Lisbon journalist, Firmino, working for the tabloid O Acontecimento, and a man of literary ambitions of his own, is sent to Oporto to follow the unfolding story. This book follows his investigation as he discovers the identity of the dead man, why the crime was committed and the perpetrators. Tabucchi, never one to write a simple and straightforward story, doesn't begin to do so here. Although the reader can learn the identity of the dead man without even opening the book and the crime is solved with very little effort, there are undercurrents that wend their way through every page of this novel.
Two people assist Firmino in his quest: Dona Rosa, the woman who runs the pension where Firmino stays in Oporto, and Don Fernando, a lawyer who is better known as Attorney Loton because of his strong resemblance to the actor Charles Laughton. Both Dona Rosa and Fernando seem a little too sure of themselves, a little too well-connected, to be genuine, but Tabucchi manages to pull this off without resorting to cliches.
The crime is based on an actual event that occurred in 1966, during the time of the Salazar dictatorship, although the novel is set in present-day Portugal. However, the fact that much has remained unchanged in Portugal is a point not to be missed. The crime, itself, involves drug smuggling and police corruption and brutality by the Guardia National.
The characters seem to be, for the most part, outsiders, from Firmino, himself, to the luckless Damasceno Monteiro, to the gypsies, to the transvestite who actually witnessed the killing.
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Was this review helpful to you?
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting politically aware mystery March 2 2000
Format:Hardcover
I am a die-hard Antonio Tabucchi fan and had ordered The Missing Head of Damasceno Monteiro prior to its release by the publisher. Read my review in this context.
The novel begins with a gypsy finding a corpse ... the initial scene is interesting in terms of the socio-political critique of the Portugese/Spanish treatment of the gypsies. Like Tabucchi's previously published Fernando Pessoa, the main character is a journalist; the story moves in a direction different than that implied by the opening scene. However, the expectation of the exploration of socio-political nature is met.
While I prefer Tabucchi's work outside of the "thriller" genre of the last two novels, his writing (and its translation) are so well done that the genre is unimportant - in any genre, he writes stories that make you think as well as making you loath to set the book down.
If you like literary thrillers, The Missing Head of Damasceno Monteiro is certainly in the same category as Canone Inverso, Class Trip, and The Name of a Bullfighter all of which are in some way masterful.
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Extremely Well-Written and Surprisingly Light Sept. 30 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Like many of Tabucchi's other works, this book is set in Portugal, and this time most of the action takes place in the more provincial northern city of Oporto. The novel opens there as Manolo the gypsy finds a headless body.
The Lisbon journalist, Firmino, working for the tabloid O Acontecimento, and a man of literary ambitions of his own, is sent to Oporto to follow the unfolding story. This book follows his investigation as he discovers the identity of the dead man, why the crime was committed and the perpetrators. Tabucchi, never one to write a simple and straightforward story, doesn't begin to do so here. Although the reader can learn the identity of the dead man without even opening the book and the crime is solved with very little effort, there are undercurrents that wend their way through every page of this novel.
Two people assist Firmino in his quest: Dona Rosa, the woman who runs the pension where Firmino stays in Oporto, and Don Fernando, a lawyer who is better known as Attorney Loton because of his strong resemblance to the actor Charles Laughton. Both Dona Rosa and Fernando seem a little too sure of themselves, a little too well-connected, to be genuine, but Tabucchi manages to pull this off without resorting to cliches.
The crime is based on an actual event that occurred in 1966, during the time of the Salazar dictatorship, although the novel is set in present-day Portugal. However, the fact that much has remained unchanged in Portugal is a point not to be missed. The crime, itself, involves drug smuggling and police corruption and brutality by the Guardia National.
The characters seem to be, for the most part, outsiders, from Firmino, himself, to the luckless Damasceno Monteiro, to the gypsies, to the transvestite who actually witnessed the killing.
Firmino, who files one story after the other regarding this crime, is finally handed all the evidence he needs on a silver platter...right along with the head of Damasceno Monteiro. It is at this moment that Firmino realizes that he is a pawn and that Don Fernando, huffing and puffing, is leading him on.
As is usually the case, the police do not make certain relevant facts public, but these are just the facts the public needs to know in order to ensure that justice prevail. It is up to poor Firmino to reveal these bits of hidden information, to make sure the whole affair is not swept under the rug and neatly forgotten. Tabucchi does not provide us with an altogether satisfactory ending, but he does hold open the small possibility that justice will be done.
This is a thoughtful novel. The characters are well-drawn, the descriptions of Oporto are engaging and the prose is smooth and even. The book is also rich in detail. Firmino's driving ambition is to write about Elio Vittorini and his influence on the Portuguese novel and he speaks of finding Lukacs's methods useful to his studies. Don Fenando speaks extensively of being greatly influenced by the legal scholar Hans Kelsen, even having gone so far as to follow him to Berkeley and Geneva as a student. "His theories about the Grundnorm had become my obsession," Don Fernando says.
This is heady stuff, but Tabucchi handles it well. Don Fernando often speaks of others, including Freud, Mitscherlich and Jean Amery as well. Fernando, though, finally chooses to leave theory behind and opt for action instead, defending those who had suffered unnecessarily in courts of law. Don Fernando's choice of action-over-words has a profound influence on Firmino.
For a book about such a heinous crime, The Missing Head of Damasceno Monteiro is surprisingly gentle. Thoughtful and extremely well-written, it echoes lightly long after one has finished the last page.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting politically aware mystery March 2 2000
By M. J. Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I am a die-hard Antonio Tabucchi fan and had ordered The Missing Head of Damasceno Monteiro prior to its release by the publisher. Read my review in this context.
The novel begins with a gypsy finding a corpse ... the initial scene is interesting in terms of the socio-political critique of the Portugese/Spanish treatment of the gypsies. Like Tabucchi's previously published Fernando Pessoa, the main character is a journalist; the story moves in a direction different than that implied by the opening scene. However, the expectation of the exploration of socio-political nature is met.
While I prefer Tabucchi's work outside of the "thriller" genre of the last two novels, his writing (and its translation) are so well done that the genre is unimportant - in any genre, he writes stories that make you think as well as making you loath to set the book down.
If you like literary thrillers, The Missing Head of Damasceno Monteiro is certainly in the same category as Canone Inverso, Class Trip, and The Name of a Bullfighter all of which are in some way masterful.
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