Benjamín Chaparro is a retired detective who is writing a book about a murder case he worked on years ago, and as he revisits the details of the investigation he also recalls the beginning of his long, unrequited love for Irene Hornos, then just an intern, now a respected judge. Set in the Buenos Aires of the late 1960s, Sacheri’s tale reveals the underpinnings of Argentina’s Dirty War and takes on the question of justice — what it really means and in whose hands it belongs.
Last week I got so excited about a fantasy series that I stayed up way too late to finish 3 books in a little over a week. By the time I finally remembered about the tendency of time to keep going no matter how engrossed we are in a story it was Sunday and I was nowhere near ready to write the review for The Secret In Their Eyes, especially since I had mixed feelings about the book. The mixed feelings persisted until the very end and in a way I feel like I've read two different books about the same characters. One is set in the present day and tells about a retired court employee struggling with writing a book and with his love for a woman he believes is out of his reach. The other is the actual book Chaparro is writing and it is set in the 60s and tells about Chaparro's investigation into the rape and murder of a young woman and how it ties people together for decades and affects the course of their lives. The past and present alternated and I really enjoyed the "past" parts. The voice was direct and strong, although not invulnerable, the events unfolded at a good pace and I really liked the characters, sympathized with them and hoped they would succeed. The present was more difficult. Half the time it read like a stream-of-consciousness rant about how much Chaparro is in love with Irene and how he can't live without thinking about her all the time. These parts were much less enjoyable, to me they were in the way of the real story and it was tiring reading about Benjamin's lovesickness over and over, how he couldn't sleep for days after every meeting with Irene, remembering the way she smiled and looked at him and smelled. It was more like reading about a teenager living through his first crush than about a 60-year-old man and whenever these chapters started I wished the author would go back to telling us about the investigation.
If someone asked me to quickly name one thing that sets the writing of this book apart from the others I've read this year I'd say it's the vocabulary. There were more SAT words in this one novel than I recall seeing in all the rest of them combined and the best part is that it felt natural, like that's just the way the author talks and it was thrilling to read a book where words you don't see every day, let alone use, don't feel forced. The sentence structure and the way the sentences fit together was unusual, I'm just not sure whether that's because the novel is translated or that's the way it was meant to be. It took some getting used to but eventually it became charming in a way and I almost stopped noticing it.
Reading The Secrets In Their Eyes made me think about justice. There are so many crime TV shows these days and at the end of almost every episode the guilty get what they deserve but here things aren't so simple and I keep thinking about how more often than not the scum of the earth keep going, adding one wrongdoing after another to the scorecard they feel no remorse about while the honest and the righteous suffer at their hands, make sacrifices to ensure that the guilty get punished and even then there are no guarantees that it'll actually happen. I guess that's the reason we have the superheroes and the TV shows - we want justice to prevail and for the good guys to come out on top. And here they do. Eventually.
P. S. In 2010 a movie by the same name won an Oscar as the best foreign film and in case you've seen it and are wondering whether it would spoil the story for you I can say that both yes and no. The general direction of the plot is the same but the film-makers took quite a few liberties with the story so regardless of whether you watch the movie after reading the book or the other way around there are still plenty of surprises.
The ARC of this book was received from the publisher, Other Press, through NetGalley.
The novel is scheduled for release on 10/18/2011.