The Secret in their Eyes (Book Review)

This novel by Eduardo Sacheri was orignally published in Spanish in 2005; the English translation appeared in 2011.  In between these dates, the book was made into a highly successful film, winning an Academy Award for ‘Best Foreign Language Film’;  I suspect that this is the main reason we are lucky enough to have the translation.  The Secret in their Eyes has been described as ‘a startling psychological mystery’ and a ‘haunting crime thriller’, but it is a much better novel than these generic labels suggest. Set in Buenos Aires in the 1970s, during the terrible years of Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’, 

Sachier’s book grapples with questions of  justice and personal responsibility, moral choices and immoral acts.  As a writer of fiction, he makes it painfully clear that a corrupt regime only flourishes when individuals allow themselves to make evil decisions and to commit horrible deeds.

The Secret in their Eyes is also worth reading for its intriguing narrative technique.  The protagonist, Benjamin Chaparro, is writing a book about a crime that occurred thirty years earlier,  beginning when ‘a young man kisses his wife good-bye at the door of their apartment.’  Chaparro’s voice is heard in both the first and the third person as he narrates the  ‘tragedy in which he had the dubious honour of serving as both witness and protagonist’. This dual thread can be demanding to follow – particularly when it’s combined with the shifting timeframes in the novel – but the rewards of reading the book more than compensate for this.

A powerful and disturbing novel, well worth reading: crime noir for the 21st century.

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