The Secret In Their Eyes by Eduardo Sacheri, tr. John Cullen

Book Reviews

The Secret in Their Eyes by Eduardo Sacheri tr. John Cullen. Cover shows a woman's head lying down on the floor The Secret in Their Eyes (2011)  is written by Eduardo Sacheri and translated from Spanish by John Cullen. The original title  “La pregunta de sus ojos” was published in 2005.  The main story arc is about a retired detective writing a book about his obsession with a thirty-year old murder set against bloody Argentina in the 1970’s.  The novel’s structure is quite different from anything that I’ve read of late because this is a novel with two stories to tell. With skill, the author created two distinct voices for the two threads and then seamlessly goes back and forth between them.  Sacheri wrote the screenplay and won the Oscar for best foreign film in 2010 for the adaptation of his book. The Secret in Their Eyes represents what I aim for in my reading: an intelligently well told crime  story set abroad that informs on history and injustice in an era that is not so well known. This was an engrossing read. I didn’t want to put it down.

The Secret In Their Eyes is an excellent psychological thriller that follows sixty year old Benjamin Chaparro, as he attempts to write his book. The story also tells of his unrequited love for a respected judge he has known for thirty years. In 1968, Chaparro was a deputy clerk with the  Examining Magistrate’s Court in Buenos Aires when he gets handed a case about a young woman  found murdered in her bedroom. Chaparro ends up befriending the victim’s husband and together and somewhat unofficially, they try to find the killer which doesn’t prove easy. Meanwhile, Chaparro’s colleagues arrest two building workers for the murder. Under the direction of an incompetent police officer and court clerk, the two suspects are beaten up and thrown in jail. Chaparro files a complaint for coercion and abuse against them. Finds that these actions has repercussions for him later on. The story goes onto show how the investigation unfolds and the sort of  justice that is dispensed for the crime committed. Also between the investigation and the book writing, the story shifts focus on Chaparro’s inner turmoil of being secretly in love with an unattainable and inscrutable woman, Judge Irene Hornos.

This was written during a time of political violence and guerrilla warfare in Argentina. This novel points out that the military dictatorship in Argentina started much earlier than the coup in 1976. Many people who work with Chaparro are vengeful, unlikable people who are  preoccupied by vanity and consumerism.  The judicial court system is seen to be insidiously influenced by the military. Prisoners convicted of violent crimes are released early with no explanation given. Innocent people are “tortured” and/or “disappeared” and never heard from again.  The corpses from the regime are so vast that the court doesn’t even assign detectives to them anymore. The author recreated an era of fear and oppression that’s mostly used as a backdrop for the cops as they try to solve a difficult homicide. Many of these details of the dictatorship were seamlessly inserted into the story where it was critical to the plot.

There’s a lot of foreshadowing which is used to great effect in building up suspense. The plotting was great especially the surprises that kept cropping up all the way to the end of the novel.  The story asks what defines justice? and manages to create a moral dilemma out of it. I found myself kind of squirming from some of the events in the story. I love it when life’s complexities are not always presented in black or white.

The narrative tone is melancholy and nostalgic . The prose was a joy to read, making it an “engrossing read.”  The characters were well drawn especially the friendship between Benjamin and his co-worker, Sandoval, a man described as intelligent, observant but also a drunk. The story overall was deeply moving. The narrative is told in first person during the flashbacks and at 320 pages, this was a quick, memorable read. Not that I think anybody will run out and get this title on my say so, I do recommend it. My grade is an B+.

The movie version was reviewed by Roger Ebert in 2010. He said of the movie:  “The Secret in Their Eyes” is a rebuke to formula screenplays. We grow to know the characters, and the story pays due respect to their complexities and needs. There is always the sense that they exist in the now and not at some point along a predetermined continuum.” I do want to watch the film version as there seems to be some slight differences between them. Reviews, well, I found this positive review from  B&N review if you don’t mind a little more plot details.

The Author

I love reading crime fiction.

10 Comments

  1. Keishon – It’s not easy to to weave two timelines together like that without letting the story get a little off-track. I’m glad this one didn’t have that effect on you. I’ll be really interested to see what you think of the film now that you’ve read the book.

  2. This one sounds very, very good: I will definitely seek it out.

    My other thought is that your review makes me not dread this psychological thriller. I’ve picked up way too many bad psychological thrillers (or maybe it’s just an overused marketing phrase or something), but this one sounds great.

    • I thought psychological thriller was apt. I know what you mean. I thought Tana French last book was overdone and overwrought psychological thriller.

  3. This sounds quite harrowing but different from the usual type of thing I read. I’m going to look out for it. I really need to stop reading the usual suspects.

    • my plan is to diversify my reading this year. I sought this title out after Maxine mentioned it briefly on my blog. She’d seen the movie (along with many others) and enjoyed it and mentioned that the book would also be available. So glad I read it.

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