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The key to a Mystery

‘A Estrela de Madeleine’ by Paulo Pereira Cristóvão

Paulo Pereira Cristóvão, who had already published ‘A Estrela de Joana’, a bestseller about the case of Joana Cipriano Guerreiro – an investigation in which Mr Cristóvão had been directly involved, as one of the Policia Judiciaria inspectors that helped break the case – recently published a book about the case of Madeleine McCann, titled ‘A Estrela de Madeleine’ or ‘The Star of Madeleine’.

This novel, where fact and fiction are deliberately intertwined, as the author states in the foreword, invites us to reflect upon the various possible theories behind the disappearance of Madeleine. It does reach a conclusion of some sort, while leaving an open door into other solutions. The exploration of several theories is done almost exhaustively, presenting arguments in favour and against several possibilities.

All of this thinking is carried out using the two main characters as ‘vehicles’. Francisco Meireles, a young PJ inspector, and his chief, João Tavares, are fictional characters that we follow through several months of an investigation that is yet to be concluded. The narrative begins on the evening of May 3, 2007, and ends at an undefined point in time, with both colleagues looking out into the deep blue ocean, in Praia da Luz. Throughout the novel, a few real-life persons enter the action – Gonçalo Amaral, Guilhermino Encarnação and Luis Neves, the Policia Judiciaria ‘triad’ that was at the core of the investigation until October, as well as the McCann couple.

For most of us, who have followed the twists and turns of this case attentively, the ‘Star of Madeleine’ does not add any new information. It uses some fictional solutions as a stand-in for what we perceive as the real developments of the investigation. It also becomes obvious that the author is not ready to completely discard Mr Murat from the case, suggesting that there was some prior form of acquaintance between him and the McCanns. This was one of the angles that I personally found most intriguing in the novel, although it is confirmed that absolutely no trace of the missing child’s presence was ever found in or around Casa Liliana.

What does stand out very clearly from this book, is that the author wanted to make a strong defense of the Policia Judiciaria, of its work, and of Portugal and the Portuguese people in general. The book is dedicated to the men and women that serve the PJ, oftentimes with great personal sacrifice, and Mr Cristovão does not hide his sorrow over the non-existent defense that the higher instances of the Policia Judiciaria, and of the Portuguese State made of their judicial police, when confronted with the humiliating and offensive remarks that were published by a significant part of the British press.

In my personal opinion, this is not a masterpiece of literary expertise, but then again, it was never supposed to be. While being an easy read, at little more than 150 pages that are managed on the fly, with a narrative that is fluent and rarely comes to a slow, the most interesting aspect is precisely the ability that the author has to convey the rationale, the train of thought that policemen follow to reach one or another conclusion.

Mr Cristóvão reinforces the notion that professional investigators do not fixate their eyes on one solution, but rather consider several options and work their way through them, eliminating one thread after another, until they remain with one or more lines of investigation that are credible. He states rather clearly that, in the case at hand, it was not the investigators that actively chose to consider the McCanns as suspects and then looked for the evidence to match the theory, but that the evidence pointed the investigators into that direction.

As a matter of fact, if there is some criticism directed at the PJ’s work in this case, it is precisely that the investigators were too slow to respond to their own instincts: that they set their usual way of working aside, to concentrate on one theory – the abduction theory – that was being imposed on them from the outside in. According to this book, there are no doubts left as to the fact that there was active interference from external agents, in this investigation.

After spending many weeks trying to pursue the abduction theory, hitting one dead end after another, there is a turning point in the investigation, with the appearance of Daniel Krugel, a South-African former investigator, followed by the intervention of British sniffer dogs Eddie and Keela. The rest, as it is usually said, is history.

The ‘Star of Madeleine’ is harsh on the McCann couple. While the author does not spend a lot of sentences on Kate and Gerry McCann, the few that are actually dedicated to them, are unsympathetic to say the least. Mrs McCann is portrayed as a cold, tough person, and Mr McCann is pictured as a man who chooses to protect his wife, his remaining children and his way of life, when he is confronted with the deadly result of a domestic accident, rather than taking what the author considers to be the appropriate action.

Towards the end of the book, there is a rather poignant ‘Thank you’ chapter dedicated to Madeleine. The author thanks her for bringing people together over a common cause, and for reminding us of so many other missing children that had slowly but surely slipped into oblivion for the general public.

This is a book that, if nothing else, is clearly written from the heart of a man who cares deeply about children, about his former colleagues at the Policia Judiciaria, and about his home country. It is obviously pro-Portugal, a fact that Mr Cristóvão never makes an effort to hide. It is also obviously pro-Madeleine. Whether it is anti-McCann, is another matter entirely – it is certainly against trying to manipulate public opinion, against trying to interfere with a criminal investigation, and against trying to derail the due course of justice.

Finally, João Tavares leaves his young colleague – and the reader – with a challenge. He mentions a key, a sequence of four numbers that would enable him to win the ‘game’ of Praia da Luz. If you can make anything of the numbers 5, 2, 3 and 1, then you, too, might crack the case of a lifetime.


Some snippets from ‘The Star of Madeleine’:

[What the detectives observe when they arrive at Apartment 5A on the night that Madeleine disappeared:] The furniture is impeccably aligned against the walls, as if someone had tried to make as much room as possible, in the centre of the living room. In the bedroom, the bed where the child was sleeping is on the opposite side of the window. Under the window, there is another bed that had not been in use. Whomever entered through the window, would have left foot marks on the bed, which in that position resembled a trap. But that had not happened.

Throughout the entire scene, the twins slept undisturbed. They were eventually carried away into another apartment, and never woke up.


In the meantime, the inspector had been at the Tapas Bar; he had been sitting at the table where the group had also been, and he had talked to the waiters. They had told him that the group usually drank significant amounts of alcohol. On the night that Madeleine disappeared, they had consumed twelve bottles of wine, and some appetizers.

The investigators have gathered informal statements, and they start to compare them. They soon realise that something is wrong. The couple's friends stated that they got up several times to check on the children, while the waiters from the Tapas bar say they did not get up that often at all. But even within the group of friends, there are contradictions.

Two English people, one of them Jane Tanner, say that they saw a man carrying a child that could be the missing infant. The description given by Jane is very vague and carries a factor of doubt, as Gerry and a friend whom he was talking to, standing on the same location as Jane when she passed, saw nobody. The friend confirmed this.


On the last day of July, the intuition of the investigators and the results from Krugel find two powerful allies that confirmed the scenario that had begun to form: the death of Madeleine McCann, on the evening of May 3.

Eddie's handler opens the door to apartment 5A, and lets the dog in, to walk freely as usual. The dog sniffs around, followed by his handler, the policemen, experts from the scientific police, and a video technician, who registers the procedure on tape. At a given moment, in the living room, Eddie signals the presence of a cadaver to his handler. According to the laws of forensics, it's a cadaver that has been in that condition for at least two hours.

On the next day, it is Keela who is put into action. After several minutes sniffing around the house, she detains herself next to a sofa in the living room. The investigators move the sofa aside, and Keela shows them two tiny spots of dry blood: one on the floor, the other one on the wall. The material is collected, and a decision is made, against the opinion of Francisco, and João Tavares. The samples are sent into a lab in Birmingham.

On the next day, early in the morning, Eddie is called back to service, to investigate the surroundings of the apartment. The dog stops here and there, marking a path that is referenced by apartment 5A and the beach of Luz. Without knowing, Eddie has just confirmed Krugel's findings.


These two canines, without knowing it, were at the core of a volcano, when in three separate moments, they "accused" Madeleine's parents of, at least, not saying the whole truth about what happened to their daughter.

First, when they were given plenty of time and space to sniff through Robert Murat's house and all of his belongings, and did not discover anything that could minimally incriminate him.

Second, when they detected the odour of death on the key of the car that they used, which was rented more than twenty days after the little girl went missing. In the same car where they found traces of blood and hair under the spare tire.

Third, when, already in the new house where the couple was staying, Eddie once again smelled the characteristic odour of death on a pair of jeans and on a blouse that belong to Kate. The soft toy that the mother carried with her every time they went out, also presented a smell of death that was detected by the same dog. What the heck do we have here, then? - he thought, intrigued. - Did the parents stage this entire circus to hide the truth?


Francisco continues:

- We went to dinner that evening, leaving our children who had been asleep since 7.30. An hour later, we were sitting at the table, with our friends who had equally left their children asleep in their bedrooms. We left the door unlocked, in case there might be an emergency. At some point, shortly after 9 p.m., the father went to the apartment and did not see his daughter where she had been sleeping, but he thought that she might be in the parents’ bedroom. He did not check if that was the case. Their friend Russell also went to check on his children, but he returned only an hour later, at the time when Kate, the mother, went into apartment 5A and did not find her daughter. Hence the despair… The child had been abducted by some stranger who had entered the bedroom and had taken her. This is it, chief!

João Tavares replies:

- Let’s see: according to the neighbour upstairs, mother and daughter had been yelling at each other. It seems that the child was hyperactive. The parents, despite the fact that they are doctors with three small children, did not bring any medication, not even a single tablet for a headache… or at least we didn’t see any. There were babysitters on offer for free, but they were dismissed that evening, for whatever reason. Among the group of friends, there are checks to suit every taste, according to their statements: every 15 minutes, every half hour, etc. Some only check on their own, others check on all the children, others only listen at the door… In the case of the twins, they didn’t even need to bother, they simply could not wake up, even in the midst of the turmoil that was generated that night. The caring mother told the neighbour upstairs that the police had been called when the alarm was raised, but she was lying. The first people that called the GNR were the employees of the Ocean Club. The same neighbour said she never saw the mother in a panic, which would be normal for a mother under the circumstances… As far as I know, nobody ever said that the lady was lying! The father, who was a lot more worried about gathering support in England, made one phone call after another, which were more political than anything else. And why was the child’s father wandering around, in the early hours of the morning, asking for the way to the church, when he had passed it so many times, on the way to the beach? And why did the English friends immediately send out the marketing and public relations heavyweight experts? Hum? And… if there were that many checks, when was the break that allowed the abductor to enter the apartment? And then there is the mother, saying that someone entered through the children’s bedroom windows, but the GNR people said that the shutters had never been forced… And then there are the doggies, that never missed a case over 200 times, and now supposedly have got it all wrong?


You know, Madeleine, many of those people who work as policemen, did everything they could to solve the mystery of your disappearance, and to bring you back to the coziness of your bed. Then they continued, never stopping, to do everything they could to clarify what had happened to you. Hundreds of men and women dedicated themselves to trying to understand what had been your destiny. They never looked at their meager salaries or at their non-existent overtime payments. They gave up time with their families and with their “Madeleines” to search for you, to try to understand what might have happened to you.

If you’d ask them today if they would do it all over again, whether there was a microscopic chance of returning you into your bed or not, I assure you that all of them would respond to the calling again, and get back to work. Come rain or sunshine, against whomever they might have to go, they would do it all over again.

Just for the fact that you are a child, innocent, small and helpless, they would go into all the deserts of Morocco to search for you. They would lift the world’s carpet to see if you where underneath it.

These people are not always perfect in everything they do, but I can guarantee you one thing: they are committed, they are stubborn, and they also don’t like losing one bit, especially when children like you are at stake. That is when they dedicate themselves even more to the services that other men assign them to. Not only because of the justice of men, but essentially because of the justice that your name deserves. They did everything they could so you could laugh at the end. So you were not gone in vain. You certainly aren’t.


  1. Welcome dear Astro and Congratulations on your 1st Post;D

  2. Dear Astro, thank you very much for the excellent translation!

  3. Astro,
    Brilliant job!! Thanks for taking precious time out of your life to do these translations for us all!
    xx Darla


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