Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo and Edith Grossman

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Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo and Edith Grossman

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: Award-winning Roncagliolo gives his readers a taste of Peru in this novel. Brutality, cruelty, election-rigging and a people living in terror - are all present in his effective but also surprisingly gentle prose.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: January 2011
Publisher: Atlantic Books
ISBN: 978-1843548317

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The very first sentence concerns the sudden discovery of a body. Judging by its dreadful state, not only some form of foul play but also some form of torture has been used. No one locally knows anything at all. Looks like a tough investigation looms for local Prosecutor by the name of Chacaltana. He is the central character in the novel. He comes across as a bit of a plodder, a bit of a dullard, someone who is methodical to a ridiculous level in his line of work. His line of work is also low-level. But, even so, he is a man who takes pride in what he does. So when he becomes involved in this macabre body incident, he gives it his full concentration. It becomes obvious he will leave no stone unturned to try and solve this crime.

We're given some background information about the Prosecutor. He lives on his own and I have to say, does come across as a rather sad and lonely person. No family to speak of, no friends, even his marriage seems to have fizzled out. So his work takes all of his waking hours. But he meets with stone walls and a strong sense of fear as he starts his investigation; asking questions, that sort of thing. Everyone simply wants to be left in peace to get on with their lives as best they can. And as Chacaltana digs deeper and deeper, he realizes that the situation is more complex and more ugly than he'd at first thought. An element of danger also creeps in. Is he out of his depth? Can he handle the situation? And Roncagliolo notches up the fear and the suspense levels nicely with plenty of questions left hanging in mid-air and deep silences. It's an effective touch which works well and I did feel for Chacaltana.

The reader is able to read between the lines, so to speak and see there's so much more to the story. Roncagliolo's style is mild, almost matter-of-fact so that when he's telling his readers about dreadful atrocities, it makes it all the more shocking. You've almost to back-track and be sure of what you've read. I liked his style but perhaps for those readers seeking 'thrills and spills' it may not work so well. It's a very softly-softly and subtle approach.

To illustrate Chacaltana's persona there's a good part of a chapter which involves him trying to chat up a young woman who works in a local restaurant. It's both excruciatingly embarrassing and sad at the same time. But, there may be a surprise in store for him in the relationship department. I so wanted him to have a bit of fun in his life.

We get to experience at first hand the local election process in Lima, Peru. Let's just say, if we think our politicians are bad, we ain't seen nothing yet ... We also meet some rather unsavoury characters as the Prosecutor carries out his dogged investigations. Roncagliolo also gives the reader a sense of the culture, the people, the customs, the food and the fiestas. Religion plays a big part in this novel. There's a striking piece where the Prosecutor is deep in conversation with the pastor of Heart of Christ. Chacaltana comments that the church is beautiful. The pastor is quick to agree and then says There are thirty-three churches in this city ... like the age of Christ ... Overall, I found this to be a reflective book with its darkness at its heart and also beautifully written. Recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then try Inhuman Remains by Quintin Jardine.

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