Repentance by Eloísa Díaz
Painful memories from Argentina’s notorious Dirty War in the early Eighties come back to haunt a Buenos Aires police inspector in a riveting and stylish debut novel from an impressive new voice in crime fiction.
Spanish writer and lawyer Eloísa Díaz, whose parents left Argentina for Spain to escape the country’s dictatorship, weaves between two dramatic timelines for an exquisitely observed and darkly funny story steeped in the brutal politics of military dictatorship.
Past and present collide, and moral dilemmas abound, as we are thrown into the complex life of charismatic Inspector Joaquín Alzada when he is drawn into a murder case which will re-open the emotional wounds – and guilt – of his brother’s ‘disappearance’ twenty years earlier.
Because this is 2001 in a country ravaged by economic crisis, riots and repression, and however hard you try to keep your head down and out of trouble, working in the police force inevitably exposes you to the personal and professional realities of life under a dictatorship.
In December of that year, Argentina is in the middle of yet another devastating economic crisis and riots are building in the streets of Buenos Aires. And making matters worse for Inspector Joaquín Alzada is a dust-laden haze hanging over the clammy, rage-filled city like ‘a polished slick metal lid on a pressure cooker.’
Now in his sixties, Alzada is burnt out and frustrated that he hasn’t been able to effect any real change in his country. He’s eligible for retirement but the police pension fund doesn’t have the money to pay out, so what he has been dreaming about for decades will just have to wait.
But he is dragged out of his torpor when a dead body is dumped in a skip behind the municipal morgue and it could well be a young woman from one of the city’s wealthiest families who has been reported missing by her sister.
Millionaire party girl Norma Echegaray had been shot three times in what appears to be a ruthless execution but soon Alzada is forced to confront his own involvement in one of the darkest episodes in Argentinian history… a time of collective horror and personal tragedy.
Twenty years ago, the country was is in the grip of a brutal military dictatorship and during a period which became known as the Dirty War, a campaign was waged against suspected left-wing political opponents and intellectuals.
It was a time when Alzada’s work exposed him to the many realities of life under the repressive regime… desperate people, terrified people and – worst of all – people who simply ‘disappeared’. Personally, he preferred to stay out of politics, enjoying a simple life with his wife Paula.
But when his revolutionary, university lecturer brother Jorge also disappeared, Alzada became determined that he would stop at nothing to rescue him…
Díaz delivers so much more than a thrilling murder mystery in this compulsive – and extraordinarily moving – slice of Argentinian noir which digs deep into the country’s murky and turbulent history, and exposes the terrors, suspicions and uncertainties of living under a series of corrupt, totalitarian regimes.
‘Written with elegance, acrid humour and breathtaking insight, and with a superbly plotted dual-layered timeline which opens a window on to the fascinating history of a country riven by menace’
For the likeable, acutely sharp Alzada – a principled man in an unprincipled world who has constantly refused to sell his soul to the authorities – work has become no more than a waiting game for his ultimate goal of retirement.
But all that changes when the death of Norma Echegaray plunges him headfirst into the well of guilt in which he has secretly floundered since his beloved, intellectual brother Jorge was ‘disappeared’ on a never-to-be-forgotten night in 1981.
While popular anger spills out on to the streets around him, and tensions rise to boiling point, Alzada must tread a careful and increasingly perilous line to solve murder in the present, and finally find his longed-for redemption by discovering what happened to his family back in the bleak days of 1981.
Written with elegance, acrid humour and breathtaking insight, and with a superbly plotted dual-layered timeline which opens a window on to the fascinating history of a country riven by menace, unrest and urban warfare, Repentance is a truly captivating and assured first novel.
(Repentance by Eloísa Díaz, W&N, hardback, £14.99)