Chile: Turmoil in the 1970s

I love it when the books I read refer to other books I’ve read. Weirdly enough I have read three books in a row like that. Can’t remember it ever happened before.  I really am a lit nerd, no doubt about it. The Neruda Case by Roberto Ampuero refers to Georges Simenon’s Maigret more than occasionally. Ampuero’s “Maigret” is the private investigator Cayetano Brulé of Valparaíso, a Cuban exile, who takes on a case from Pablo Neruda himself.

Neruda, the world famous poet, is dying of cancer, and he he is looking for closure for one last thing, before his time is up. Cayetano ends up traveling to several countries while trying to get ahold of a woman the poet used to know back in the days. We are told that he is actually looking for her husband,  an oncologist, but it is clear from the beginning that is not him Pablo Neruda is really after. The oncologist’s wife might have given birth to the poet’s daughter, and obviously he wants to find out if he is her father or not. It is not as easy as it sounds to find this woman, since she has changed names many times, and she seems to be protected by “people who matter”. As expected he finds her in the end.

The story itself is not a traditional PI story with real excitement, but rather a well-balanced literary fiction PI story. The whole ‘a new Maigret working in a chaotic Latin America’ does not really work the way it was probably intended to work. The book does not have any features from the genre of international thrillers, even though I think it was meant to have. I had a hard time placing the book in a genre, although in my opinion it should be an easy pick, go figure.

This is the sixth book in the series, but it takes us back to the times the protagonist became a PI. He happened to meet the poet at a party, and as they say, the rest is history. It was an easy and fast read, but it did not make me want to pick up another novel in the same series. Fact and fiction is mingling from left to right in this book, which makes it a bit tricky. Quite bold to write a book about one of the big poets of all times, and make up a story about him. The book gives an interesting insight into Latin America in the 1970s. The last months of Salvador Allende’s leadership turns into Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. Life in Chile was not easy back then, and it was interesting to read about those days and events.

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