Translated from the original Brazilian Portuguese, The Spies has lost none of its charm. Costa’s translation of the short novel is fluid, natural, and utterly convincing.
The protagonist, a married father-of-one, is a publisher with a healthy disdain for his authors. More time and energy is spent among the motley crew of eccentric regulars at nearby Bar do Espanhol than his office. By his own admission, most of the manuscripts received go straight into the bin; the luckier ones may receive a particularly scathing rejection letter. Until one day, a mysterious cover letter accompanied by a sample chapter arrives and captures his imagination.
Ariadne, from the middle-of-nowhere town of Frondosa, claims to be delaying her suicide until the completion of her memoir. Intrigued —and admittedly fancying himself as her saviour—the narrator dispatches several of his drinking buddies to investigate Frondosa’s tragic heroine.
Much humour stems from the images of several middle-aged and older men rushing to the aid of a woman with a dubious story who signs her name with a “little flower above the ‘i’ instead of a dot”.
What follows is a well-paced, darkly humorous, and perfected constructed tale. Part of its appeal is that everybody knows a town like Frondosa, and every town has a girl like Ariadne. While the story’s climax lacks pizzazz, the strength of this book is the careful, subtle creation of memorable characters. Verissimo’s writing is a pleasure to read and in this regard, The Spies is a fantastic little novel.