In this thriller, an attorney investigates his father’s murder, which may have been politically motivated.
Will Muñoz, a high-priced lawyer working in San Francisco, gets the tragic news that his mother killed herself. She’d long struggled with persistent melancholy, ever since her husband, famed Chilean novelist Ricardo Muñoz, was murdered 30 years ago in what police said was a burglary gone wrong. However, in her suicide note, she expresses her long-held suspicion that Ricardo was assassinated on the orders of Chilean despot Augusto Pinochet. Ricardo was a relentless critic of Pinochet’s illiberal policies and fled Chile for the United States in 1975, after serving a prison sentence for political dissidence. Then he wrote an unpublished novel dramatizing Pinochet’s lurid personal life—a devastatingly unflattering portrayal that somehow ended up in the dictator’s hands. Will decides to conduct an investigation of his own, finds his father’s manuscript, and commissions a translation of it into English. He also discovers that his mother’s second husband, Chuck Evans, sought out the manuscript as well, had a professional connection to the CIA, and may have participated in a program that experimented on college students with mind-controlling drugs. Will continues to dig deeper and eventually stumbles upon a murderous conspiracy on American soil. Author Robinson (Tropical Judgments, 2015, etc.) conjures a complex skein of diverse plot threads; his novel is part crime drama and part political thriller, as well as a story about Will’s personal torment in dealing with a painful past. The author’s knowledge of Chilean politics in the 1970s, as well as the CIA’s nefarious interventions in it, is impressive, and he artfully weaves this history’s lingering impact into the plot. That said, the prose is a peculiar combination of awkward and banal at times, as in this description of Will’s reaction to his mother’s suicide: “I felt totally and unambiguously vacant. All the processors had shut down. Did you know that suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States?”
An engaging tale, occasionally thwarted by uninspired prose.