As you say, this novel goes beyond any "thriller" or "detective" genre, to show in a microcosmos the plight of the defenseless (Romani, impoverished youths, second-rate journalists) against a corrupt system. But Tabucchi would never condescend to write a long, lacrimose complaint. Instead, he chooses to create a set of colorful, eccentric but believable characters who, haphazardly, join forces to discover the truth about a drug-trafficking racket. Although he leaves the ending open to a possible (but not very likely) future victory, in the end the forces of money, power and corruption triumph.
But, along the way, we are introduced to Firmino, Loton and Dona Rosa. The first we can identify with, because many among us can remember our intellectually ambitious youth, when we tried to tackle some obscure subject with the hope of achieving some academic, scientific or literary recognition, while performing a rather downtrodden job to make ends meet. It is good that Tabucchi chose a sensationalist, cheap journal, instead of a major newspaper, as the latter wouldn't be interested in an everyday murder which, nonetheless, hides a corrupt network within the police.
Dona Rosa may or may not be a spy, a police informant. She is lovely, anyway, and key to the unveiling of the plot. And Loton is a marvellous character, a Portuguese, decadently aristocratic Don Quixote who devotes his fortune, culture and time to defend the hopeless. That there would be more of those lawyers!
The other character, of course, is the city itself. I had the chance to visit Oporto (now called "Porto" for some reason) three years ago, and left with the wish t return and spend some more time. It is a beautiful city, slightly redolent of past glories but vibrant and young, with excellent food and incredible alleys, winding up and down around the margins of the Douro river. And you can drink excellent port, of course.
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