And somewhere in that apartment, holding up a short table-leg there was an old book. Wishing to keep it, I stole it. (I didn't think any of the occupants of the apartment would miss it).
Its title page read:
As Tragedias de Lisboa
Now, don't go rushing out to get your own copy.
The book is by one Francisco Leite Bastos, whom research shows to have been a Portuguese journalist and crime-writer, 1846-1881. Leite Bastos is not sufficiently highly regarded to earn a mention in the Portuguese wikipedia. Nor can I say that he deserves it. For all I know, it's just pretty standard Conan Doyle knock off -- cool furniture (colonial gentlemen, purloined letters, rabid dogs); odd puzzles(usually with rather disappointing solutions); a mild thrill of danger. Millions -- quite literally -- like it.
The truth is that the book's main attraction to me lies in the fact that... I do not read Portuguese -- only French and Italian (and neither all too well). I am therefore unable to follow all of the book's inanities. I cannot be disappointed by the solution to its puzzles, for example, since I do not quite grasp the puzzles in the first place.
I understand a little, enough to enjoy the odd furtniture: for example, that O Club Dos Gravatas Lavadas -- the club of the laundered ties -- is a crime organization based on the masonic model; that viscount of Saint Crispin is a ruined Bohemian nobleman who nevertheless manages to keep a balcão in São Carlos, a horse, and a pack of hounds, and to socialize with everybody who is anybody; that in the course of the action a corpse is dug up; and that some of the action takes place among the Africans of the city, an off-limits, forbidden ground. (1)
All of these are excellent building blocks with which to toy; to imagine what the book could possibly be about. But what it is about, I do not know -- and that is just great. Having read dozens of similar books before, I positively know I do not want to know.
Unable to know it, I am free to believe it mysterious; and to fool myself into thinking that there is more to it than there is likely to be.
But I am repeating myself.
(1) I find no mention of the Rua do Poço dos Negros, named after an unholy burial ground for the unbaptised blacks which had once existed here -- "Poço" is the Venetian pozzo, well, here meaning a hole in the ground where the dead were buried).