Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Review of The Secret in Their Eyes by Eduardo Sacheri (Other Press, 2011; Spanish 2005)

On retiring from forty years working as a court clerk, Benjamin Chaparro asks to borrow an old typewriter, hoping to write a novel with his new found time.  After a few false starts he decides to write the story of Liliana Morales, a recently married young woman who was raped and murdered in her apartment in 1968.  Liliana’s death had a profound effect on her husband, a reserved bank teller, and cast a long shadow over Chaparro’s career after he takes more interest in the case than usual, in the process making an enemy of a colleague who later gains power and influence during Argentina’s dark years of the 1970s when thousands of people disappeared at the hands of state agents.  As he writes, Chaparro reflects on his own life, his friendships and failed marriages, and his loneliness and unrequited love for Irene Hornos, who started as an intern in his team and is now a judge.

The Secret in Their Eyes charts forty years in the life of Benjamin Chaparro, a court clerk in Buenos Aires, whose life is over-shadowed by the investigation into the death of Liliana Morales and his love for a married woman.  Sacheri tells the story through two entwined narratives.  The first follows Chaparro retiring from the court service, starting to write a novel, and coming to terms with his new life and his loneliness and longing for Irene.  The second is the text from the novel charting the death of Liliana, the investigation over a number of years, the quest for justice, and the material and emotional effects on her husband and Chaparro.  The two strands are very nicely interwoven, the observations and reflections are keenly detailed, and the pace is judged beautifully.  Both stories are fascinating, especially the investigation and how it became entangled in the dirty war in Argentina during the 1970s.  The characterisation is very well done, particularly the melancholic Chaparro, and plotting is excellent, though the story tails off a little towards the end, with both storylines feeling like they weren’t quite fully worked through (ironically, a recurrent element in the book is that Chaparro is never quite happy with what he believes to be the end of his novel, going on to extend the story).  Nonetheless, The Secret in Their Eyes is a very well written piece of literary crime fiction.  The book was made into a film of the same name that won the 2010 foreign language Oscar (which, if I remember it correctly was quite faithful to the book, though it had more tension and the ending was more definitive).


pattinase (abbott) said...

THis was a great movie. Didn't know it was a book first.

TracyK said...

Glad to see your review. I just bought this book and hope to get to it soon because I want to rewatch the movie too. I enjoyed the movie, I think my husband did not like the ending so much.