Longueurs in Lisbon
RICHARD ZIMLER, who comes garlanded with awards and approval, chiefly for his breakthrough novel, The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, is an American who made his home in Portugal more than 30 years ago. But, reading his latest, The Night Watchman (Corsair, £7.99) — again featuring a protagonist of American background, this time in Lisbon — is, for me, like crashing through a forest with trees repeatedly reaching out to hit you in the face.
His hero — Henrique “Hank” Monroe, born and raised in Colorado and now living in Lisbon — is surely the most improbable policeman to grace the pages of any crime thriller. Allegedly a chief inspector, Monroe is still so unsure of his ability to speak Portuguese that there are days when he doesn’t trust himself to use the subjunctive — awkward, I imagine, if trying to put a hypothetical case to a suspect.
Stranger still than his linguistic inability is his tendency to go off into a fugue from time to time in which he is taken over by a (largely benevolent) alter ego, Gabriel — who smokes and curses, which Monroe himself does not.
We meet Monroe — who has an inexplicable (but unexplained) interest in the Jews of the Holocaust — when he is about to investigate the murder of a rich Portuguese businessman called Pedro. Pedro has a sister called Sylvia, a wife Susana and a daughter Sandi. Are there no women in Portugal whose names do not begin with the letter S?
Monroe also has a weird brother with OCD, a scarcely sketched out wife, and two peculiar children. There is a plot of sorts but it takes Zimler 422 very long pages to develop and resolve it.