Like most Americans, I know almost nothing of Argentine history -- however, unlike most, I do at least know that there was a very nasty internal conflict known as the "Dirty War" some thirty or so years ago (like everything relating to the Dirty War, different people have different ideas on the start and end dates). I knew, in broad terms, that a military junta seized power and waged a brutal campaign of repression against various left-wing elements in society, ranging from armed guerrilla groups to leftist intelligentsia. I know that people were snatched from their homes, the streets, wherever, never to be seen again ("disappeared" in the infamous phraseology), while daily life went on more or less as normal.
What I didn't know is what that era felt like. This first in a trilogy featuring Buenos Aries police Superintendent "Perro" Lascano, takes place in the midst of the Dirty War, and brings it to life. As the book opens, he is called out to look into a report of two bodies lying at the end of a dirt road. However, when he gets there, he finds three bodies -- two executed leftists, and a third man completely unlike the others. What follows is a pretty straightforward procedural, as Lascano methodically assembles clues, interviews people, and figures out who the mystery man is and why he was killed. Of course, his investigation takes him into the murky waters of the junta and its friends, and he has to tread carefully to avoid being disappeared himself.
He's a classic Chandleresque detective, a loner, haunted by the memory of his dead wife, world-weary, etc., but along the way he acquires a love interest who rekindles his spark. The investigation isn't particularly clever, as the Lascano is easy able to trace them, literally picking up clues along the way. But the lurking danger of military involvement hangs over everything and gives the story a deep sense of menace. The book's one big flaw is in how it renders dialogue: speech is set in italics in long unbroken blocks of alternating sentences, so that you have to keep careful track of whose "turn" it is to speak. It's a really strange decision, and makes dialogue a total pain for the reader. For those with an interest in modern Argentine history, or the international crime fiction, it's worth making the effort.