The first of Chilean crime novelist Eterovic's books to be translated into English features a hard-nosed PI named Heredia investigating a crime whose roots lie in the political kidnappings and torture of the Pinochet regime four decades ago.
In outline, this is straight-down-the-line hard-boiled fiction. Heredia lives in downtown Santiago and close to the bone, using his office as a place to flop; he's tough, world-weary, a gambler and a habitué of rough, run-down bars and clubs (like the cafes con piernas, "coffee shops with legs")...but also bookish. He scorns technology like cellphones and computers, and he speaks in an edgy banter lifted straight from Hammett and Chandler. In some ways the case he investigates here, too, is straightforward, even predictable: Germán Reyes, a lumberyard employee, has been murdered, and though the (minimal) evidence in the case doesn't support the theory at all, the police have declared the death a botched robbery to get it off the books. What's most conspicuously unusual here, for an American reader, is the setting—Chile about 30 years after the Pinochet regime—and Eterovic makes impressive use of it. Reyes was held and tortured by the infamous intelligence services at Villa Grimaldi, and he has in recent years been working with a group trying to excavate that little-spoken-of past and identify, shame, and prosecute those who, often under aliases, took part in arresting, tormenting, and in many cases murdering their fellow citizens—and then were allowed to resume or remake their bourgeois lives. Heredia immediately sees where his investigation is headed and doggedly—with the help of friends including a news vendor, an independent-minded girlfriend, and an enforcer who's auditioning for a partnership with Heredia—pursues the snake into its many holes. The surprise is the extent to which, despite its lack of big surprises, the book nevertheless works: Eterovic constructs an intricate plot peopled with dozens of characters, and he unravels the snarls patiently and often stylishly. The star here is contemporary Chile as a classic noir setting, not unlike gilded-but-corrupt LA in the 1930s: a society built on nested lies and dissimulations that many people would just as soon not expose.
Heredia is an iconic figure in Chilean crime fiction, the subject of graphic novels and a TV series, and one hopes his U.S. debut will be followed by many more outings.