Repentance by Eloisa Diaz

A detective story where the case is solved but not brought to justice because of the backdrop to the book, turbulent times in Argentina.

There are two stories, a case of history repeating itself. Set in 1981, Alzada a young policeman, and his wife Paula, have a barbeque with his brother Jorge and wife Adela. Unrest is in the air and Jorge, a professor, is on the side of change and revolution. It’s a dangerous time as the state is ‘disappearing’ people. Late one night, Jorge and Adela are picked up and taken away. Their three year old son, Sorolla, is then found hiding under the bed in their flat by Alzada and Paula.

Moving forward 20 years, the people of Argentina want change again, and again the government of the day crack down. This time the people turn out onto the streets in their tens of thousands, defying the curfew and Sorolla wants to join in. A body is found in the dumpster next to the police station, a woman with no identification on her and a well-known family come into the station to declare that someone in their family, a woman, has disappeared.

It isn’t easy being in the police during either of these times and the sacrifices Alzada has made over the years pour out as Sorolla and Alzada argue. Alzada couldn’t protect Jorge and it seems to be happening again with Sorolla. This is one of the interesting elements of the book, this cycle that countries get into when people refuse to give up power or take power by force. It exemplifies how it is everyday people that get caught up in doing the work of those who make the decisions and the effects it has on them and their families thereafter.

Paula is a steadfast character, the voice of reason and reminds me a bit of Donna Leon’s character Commisario Brunetti and his wife Paola (same name). The one who brings commons sense, sorts out arguments and brings wisdom to situations. I would say that Paula is very clearly modelled on her.

Montalbano also gets a mention in the book, so I think this is a story drawing on the detectives and their partners that Diaz has enjoyed alongside the historical upsets in Argentina’s not too distant past. I wonder,now, what I might have missed.

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