Last year, the Spanish language film of this novel won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film of 2010, and the subtitled version has gone on to become as much of a success with film aficionados in the US as it has with the Academy and audiences in Spanish-speaking countries. The newly translated novel on which the film is based is proving to be just as popular among professional critics and among readers on Amazon alike, and it is easy to see why. Writing in extremely colloquial Spanish, which has been translated into colloquial English by John Cullen, Sacheri makes his main characters so life-like that all differences in culture, background, and time frame disappear during the thirty-year time frame of the novel.
Main character Benjamin Chapparo, a deputy clerk and chief administrator associated with the investigative courts in Buenos Aires, has just recently retired, and, having "a lot of time, too much time," he decides to reconstruct his most challenging and emotionally memorable case from the late 1960s, bringing it and its participants up to the present - the story of Ricardo Morales. Alternating between the present and the violence of the late 1960s in Argentina, Chaparro lets the reader into his life, a life in which he bemoans his two divorces; his seeming inability to find true love; his commitment to justice at a time in which violence under a succession of militaristic dictators was the rule; and his thirty-year, unrequited love for a married colleague who seems not to know he adores her.
On May 30, 1968, Chaparro is ordered to go to the scene of the murder and rape of Liliana Morales to oversee the work of the local police. There he discovers a cast of thousands of police milling around the murder scene and not doing anything they have not been told directly to do. Shortly after, when Romano, a colleague, arrests two laborers who have working in an apartment near the victim's, then beats them senseless to gain a confession, Chaparro investigates, and brings charges for abuse of power against Romano. Later, Chaparro and his friend Sandoval, discover the real murderer, but when he is arrested, he finds loophole in the system, and it is Chaparro who is forced to escape for his life to the hinterlands, leaving behind everything that has had any meaning for him.
Over the next thirty years, the reader watches Chaparro work this case, off and on. His sympathy with the victim's husband never fades, and as the time frame alternates between present and past and within several different periods between the present and the time of the murder, the reader comes to sympathize with the people who yearn for justice at a time in which dictators and the military limit investigations. Sacheri's observations about his characters, their motivations, and the circumstances in which they find themselves are particularly astute, giving sociological and psychological explanations for many of their unusual dilemmas. The conclusion, full of surprises, is true to his characters and thematically satisfying, making this a particularly well crafted novel with a mystery and its aftermath at its heart. Mary Whipple