The One with the Cat-Loving Chilean Sam Spade

Ramón Díaz Eterovic, Dark Echoes of the Past (Spanish, La oscura memoria de las armas, 2008, English 2017)

I rarely read any South-American books, so I jumped on the opportunity to discover a Chilean mystery by a very popular writer in his home country, the first novel of a series to be translated into English. I wasn’t disappointed!

Heredia, the hero and narrator, is a classic gumshoe, a P.I. working (and reading books between cases) in a decrepit building of Santiago, Chile. Heredia could be Philip Marlowe’s Southern cousin, because he’s a bit lazy, hard-drinking, world-weary, isn’t opposed to some violence here and there and waxing philosophical after the occasional beating, but he’s a lot more well-read. His cat is called Simenon, who talks back to Heredia on occasion, and the references to 1950s noirs are everywhere.

Except that it’s 21st century Chile and not the early 20th century America. And Chilean history is full of skeletons in the closet, with the transition to democracy after Pinochet’s fascist regime leaving a lot of unpalatable truths in its wake. The case Heredia takes on in this book has been closed by the police as a burglary gone wrong, but the victim’s sister is convinced that there is more to it.

The mystery is slow-paced, but it gave me time to enjoy the setting (Heredia obviously loves his home town) and the historical details, especially how old military have blended back into society at the end of the dictatorship without having been named and shamed. As Heredia is more of an archetype of the classic P.I., I wouldn’t say that the novel is highly realistic but it is entertaining and informative. I would gladly read another Heredia mystery.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

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