Buenos Aires 1981 and Argentina is in the grip of a brutal military dictatorship. Inspector Joaquín Alzada’s work in the Buenos Aires police force exposes him to the many realities of life under a repressive regime: desperate people, terrified people and – worst of all – missing people. Personally, he prefers to stay out of politics, enjoying a simple life with his wife Paula. But when his revolutionary brother Jorge is disappeared, Alzada will stop at nothing to rescue him. Twenty years later and the country is in the midst of yet another devastating economic crisis and riots are building in the streets of Buenos Aires. This time Alzada is determined to keep his head down and wait patiently for his retirement. But when a dead body lands in a skip behind the morgue and a woman from one of the city’s wealthiest families goes missing, Alzada is forced to confront his own involvement in one of the darkest periods in Argentinian history – a time of collective horror and personal tragedy…
Having recently started to dip my toe into the world of Argentinian crime fiction through Sergio Olguin, and the upcoming Like Flies From Afar by K. Ferrari, I leapt at the chance to take part in the publication launch for Repentance from Eloísa Díaz. Needless to say I was very impressed indeed…
Eloísa Díaz has an incredibly concise yet sophisticated writing style, and I was soon fully immersed in this bleak tale with its parallel timelines, recounting not only the darkest years of Argentinian history with suppression and kidnap or disappearances an everyday occurrence, but also the more contemporary storyline showing the continuing societal and political issues facing its citizens. Unlike some books with contrasting timeframes, it is perhaps a testament to the strength of Díaz’s writing that I was equally engaged with both and the subtle and not so subtle connections of events past and present. With her journalist’s eye for detail, and her seemingly natural skill at the brevity of description packing a powerful punch, this book is not only a vivid and interesting testimony to Argentina’s chequered history without overwhelming the reader with factual detail, but manages to balance this beautifully with the engaging and compelling mystery element too.
At the heart of this dark tale is the mesmerising character of Inspector Joaquín Alzada who has himself experienced the darkest days of Argentine suppression and sedition both as a law enforcement officer, but also on a much more personal level with the shady disappearance of his brother some years previously. The repartee between himself and his wife Paula is a pure delight, and equally his less complimentary opinions of his immediate superiors bring a liveliness and energy to his character, outside his more serious and dedicated role as a police officer. As he finds the discomfort of the past encroaching on the latter days of his career, he becomes drawn into the pursuit of justice and a personal redemption as the past and present become inextricably intertwined with dangerous ramifications for himself and those closest to him.
As I’ve already touched on, Díaz’s melding of history with the thriller form in Repentance works beautifully throughout, and this is further bolstered by her innate eye for atmosphere and location, with the city of Buenos Aires becoming a character in itself. Her skill at balancing and drawing away at critical moments from the contrasting storylines serves the tension building and pace of the plot incredibly well, leading to the reader becoming absorbed by both storylines equally. I read this book very quickly, as I was so drawn into the narrative, and emerged the other side with not only an enhanced knowledge of the politics and history of this country, but having thoroughly enjoyed a well structured and compelling thriller. Recommended.
(With thanks to W&N for the ARC)
Praise for Repentance
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