Cover Image: Repentance

Repentance

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Eloísa Díaz weaves a classic noir thriller with her outstanding debut novel, Repentance.

 With an impressive, multifaceted plot and strong characters, especially the cynical, worn down but likeable Inspector, Joaquín Alzada; Diaz skillfully alternates between two points in Argentina’s history.

Beginning with a dark and troubled time for  Argentina known as the “Dirty War”, when a military dictatorship “disappeared “thousands of individuals opposed to its rule; and  Alzada’s  2001 missing person case set in Buenos Aires where political corruption and an economic collapse brought the people to the streets demanding change. All this turmoil conjures up painful secrets of the past for Joaquin and impacts his investigation.  Furthermore, Diaz’s descriptive words put the reader right in the action.  For example, the horrifying details of Jorge’s interrogation trigger a painful reaction in the reader.

 Highly recommend
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Wonderfully evocative and gripping dual-time narrative set in Buenos Aires. In 1981 Argentina is under a military dictatorship. In 2001 the country is in the grip of another economic crisis and riots are breaking out on the streets. Back in 1981 Inspector Joaquin Alzada wanted to keep his head down but had to put his neck on the line when his brother was arrested. Still haunted by what happened back then, he again wants to ride this latest crisis out, but once more, when the body of a young woman is discovered in a dumpster he is again forced to question his own duty and responsibility. It’s a multi-layered and complex novel, well-written and well-paced, which explores many of the issues that have beset Argentina over recent decades. It looks at individual moral decisions and explores just what compromises people often have to make to survive under dictatorships and corrupt government. I found it a compelling and atmospheric tale, with an authentic sense of time and place, and Alzada himself an interesting and complex character who exemplifies the moral choices we often have to make. A great read.
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The book is set in two time periods in Buenos Aires, Argentina: the time of the Generals, when a brutal dictatorship made its enemies - anyone who they felt threatened their rule - disappear, and in 2001, when popular demonstrations in the streets are challenging a more recent administration's grip on power. The main character, Joaquin Azada, is a police officer who was young when the military dictatorship was committing atrocities, and is now retirement age, but unable to quit because of austerity measures. His brother was one of the disappeared, along with the brother's wife. Their infant son was raised by Azada and his wife and is coming into his adulthood with a variety of problems, including severe panic attacks. 

In 2001, Azada has two cases on his hands: The  daughter of a prominent family has disappeared, and the body of a woman has been found, brutally beaten in much the way Azada's brother once was by the regime. His eager young assistant thinks the two cases are related. 

While there is a murder and an investigation, the real drama is around Azada's moral predicament, trying to justify working for corrupt authorities while knowing the price his brother paid for resistance, and how that has affected his relationship with his brother and nephew, and all of that is a way of giving readers a feel for how Argentinians caught in the middle have navigated their tempestuous history.
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I enjoyed this book. I haven’t read anything during this time period, so it was a unique setting.  However, as much as I liked the book, I didn’t feel like the description was accurate. There’s a crime, but it’s not the plot of the story, just part of the greater story of Argentinian dictatorships. It’s not a crime mystery or a thriller. It’s excellent historical fiction about a family trying to survive during times of great upheaval. 5 stars for what it actually is, 4 because of the inaccurate summary and genre.
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The brutal Argentinean dictatorship of 1981 is coupled with an economic hardship of 2001, both stories centering on a policeman. In 1981, his brother becomes one of the "disappeared." The brother's son hid from the bad guys and s left to the policeman to raise. naturally, in 2001, he himself is a radical of sorts.
I enjoyed reading about these periods in history. The story seems awkward at first, but I thought that the author did a good job of presenting the contrasts.
Thanks NetGalley for the ARC.
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I started reading Repentance two nights ago. I had several other books going, but none of them were exactly the read I was looking for, so I played the "might as well start something new" card. I am so glad I did! Repentance is one of those detail-rich mystery novels that doesn't just provide a puzzle to poke at, but gives us a detailed portrait of a particular place and time or, in this case, one place and two times. 

The action in Repentance is set in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and takes place in 1981 and 2001—during the Dirty War and the economic crisis know as the Great Argentine Depression, two absolutely pivotal points in the history of a country that has seen ongoing cycles of revolution and repression. Eloísa Díaz brings Buenos Aires to life in all its complexities: the class divisions, the compromises required for success, the uneasy alliances, the widely varying neighborhoods pressing up one against another, the power of the past in the present.

In 1981, Inspector Joaquín Alzada had a promising career in the police force (Buenos Aires' youngest Inspector ever!), but his career is stagnating during the Dirty War, during which he carefully avoids taking sides and keeps his head down. Alzada's younger brother Jorge, a university professor, is less cautious, making his political opinions known, ignoring Alzada's warnings, and unaware of the many strings Alzada is pulling to keep his brother safe. Inevitably, Jorge and his wife become two of Argentina's disappeared.

In 2001, Alzada and his wife Paula are raising their orphaned nephew, who is eager to take part in this new round of protests. Alzada continues working as an Inspector (no career breakthroughs since his early success) and, in the midst of the protests, finds himself handling a missing persons case involving a wealthy family and, possibly, other powerful figures.

The narrative arc of both timelines is gripping, so I never had that experience one often has reading two-timeline novels of "oh bother, now we're back to that *other* timeline." I was hungry to follow both arcs and willingly moved between them under Eloísa Díaz' guidance. This is Díaz' first novel, so I face the frustration of not being immediately able to seek out other titles she's written—on the other hand, this means I can look forward to more writing by Díaz in the future.

There are so many reasons to read Repentance. If you're interested in the history of democracy and its betrayal in Latin America, if you enjoy noir, if historical mysteries are a favorite genre, if you regularly find yourself turning over questions of how to make ethical choices in unethical times, if you enjoy top-notch fiction of any kind—for any of these reasons and so many more, Repentance is a read-it-now-not-someday title. In my case, I think it's also going to be a title I'll return to every few years for another read. It riches are so abundant that they can't possibly be fully experience in a single reading.

I received a free electronic review copy of Repentance from the publisher via NetGalley; the opinions are my own.
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A word of advice before I get started: disregard the "thriller" label that pops up in the book description. This is not a thriller. Yes, there are mysteries to be solved but if it must be put in a box, historical literary fiction is a better fit. Ok, onward....

What we have is an engrossing & poignant read that follows the life of an Argentinian police officer in Buenos Aires. Told in dual timelines 20 years apart, we watch as Joaquin Alzada gradually transforms from cautious idealist to world weary realist. Like the country itself, his life has been one of upheaval & sorrow. 

The historical side of the story is set in 1981 & Argentina is suffering under brutal military rule. Joaquin is quietly trying to do his job while keeping his head down to protect his family. It's a balancing act made more difficult by the actions of his brother Jorge, a union agitator. Then one night Jorge & his wife vanish. They've joined the ranks of the "disappeared". As this side of the story progresses, we follow Joaquin's desperate search & the choices he makes in order to learn their fates. He can't know it yet but some of his decisions will come back to haunt him.

In the present (2001) Joaquin is tasked with babysitting Estrático, a shiny new recruit who immediately gets on his last nerve. When a young woman's body is found, the case takes on a special urgency after she's identified as belonging to a wealthy family with political connections. Meanwhile, the country is once again tearing itself apart. The economy is in crisis & as rioters fill the streets, Joaquin must tread carefully to avoid attracting the attention of corrupt cops & politicians. 

These are the mysteries that propel the plot lines but it's really a story about Argentina. The country seems to pinball from one crisis to the next. Military coups, revolutions, dictators, economic meltdowns.......it's a revolving door of corruption that preserves the distinct rift between haves & have-nots. 

The prose is richly evocative of the time & place. It's obvious the author loves this country & her people but doesn't shy away from the truth. Through Alzada's eyes, we watch as sudden bursts of violence temporarily relieve the constant claustrophobic fear of daily life. But in quiet scenes between Alzada & his clever wife, we also witness a tenderness & humour that sustains them both. And so I began to see him as Argentina personified.

My genre comment above was not a criticism. It's more about helping readers find their next book. This is Latin Noir written by an author whose elegant prose can swing from poignant to gut wrenching in a heartbeat. Those who pick this up will be treated to a dark yet ultimately hopeful tale with a compelling MC.

3.5 stars
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Sometimes translations work and sometimes they don't. Eloisa Diaz's Repentance almost works. The story is set in a dual timeline, with a police mystery in the present day and the Dirty War circa 1981. The protagonist, a detective named Joaquin Alzada whose personal connection to the Dirty War involves the "disappearance" of his brother, essentially takes over the story. It ceases to be crime fiction (as billed) and instead turns into something of a meditation on the missing. I'm not sure that this book entirely works, but I think that may be a function of being an American reading it. It struck me as confusing and hard to follow, but this style of writing is common in South American fiction. There is definitely an audience for this work and Diaz has important things to say.
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A Latin noir and debut novel Repentance, written in English by Eloísa Díaz is a tribute to her parents’ nationality. It is set in two separate timeframes, initially Buenos Aries of 1981 under military dictatorship and then twenty years later with the economic collapse of 2001. Inspector Joaquín Alzada is a police officer, the youngest ever appointed and this is the story of his professional career in turbulent times. Summoned by a telephone call, he discovers his brother, a university professor and his wife, have been disappeared by the military junta. Whist there is a crime, this saga is more a reflection on a man and the impact of these two major events on his family, work and personal values. A powerful story of two momentous periods of Argentine history, despite its somewhat misleading crime fiction label and so a three-star read rating. With thanks to Polis Books and the author, for an uncorrected advanced review copy for review purposes. As always, the opinions herein are totally my own and are made without fear or favour.
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Really well done with a writing style that is concise and somewhat chilling. A really interesting recent historical detective story exploring Argentina at the time of one of its most brutal regimes in 1981 i.e. When the Disappearances were happening and then in 2001 when history was repeating itself from the viewpoint of a policeman who never really has come to terms with it despite his privileges.
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The Dirty War and the disappeared in Argentina has always been interesting to me, so I was excited to read this book. It starts out strong: a dead body, a missing girl (who might or might not be the same person), and an obvious dark past for our main character, Inspector Alzada. 

But from there the narrative gets disjointed, the logic of Alzada gets confusing, the relationships between characters seem muddled, and the various plot lines start to loose steam. At the end of the book I still wasn't sure what happened with the cases that opened the book, and the 1980s story line isn't wrapped up particularly well either (although better than the 2001 storyline).

I did appreciate the political history in this book, the way it shows a real family dealing with grief, and how Alzada, being a police officer, had to develop a nuanced sense of what side of the political battles people fall on. But while this is billed as a crime/mystery book, it's really not and feels like a books that can't quite decide its genre.
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Joaquín Alzada is a police inspector who has a thinner line to walk than most. Twenty years ago, he had to maintain a balance between his sympathy for anti-government protesters. Now, he has to hold the thin blue line just long enough to make it to retirement. In Repentence, by Eloísa Díaz, we see Joaquín in 1981 and in 2001, at two turning points in his life. Joaquín is a wily man and, as he tries to walk a straight path through a lot of crooked streets, we see him use everything he’s learned to find two missing people.

Between 1976 and 1983 (plus or minus several years), Argentina’s government was at war with Argentina’s people. We don’t know how many people were killed during the Dirty War. In 1981, Joaquín is an agent of the government while his brother is quietly working for the revolution. Well, he thinks quietly. It isn’t long into Repentence before Joaquín’s brother is disappeared. In 2001, a much more world-weary Joaquín is given the task of finding a wealthy young woman who went missing. Unlike Joaquín’s brother two decades earlier, lots of people want to find the missing woman.

Twenty years has changed Joaquín. The juxtaposition between the two versions of Joaquín—and the things that remain the same—are fascinating to see. It’s also interesting to see what’s different about Buenos Aires and Argentine in 1981 and 2001. And as intriguing as comparisons are, it’s that much more compelling to think about the big questions this book asks. Will the government and powers that be always win? Or is there hope that things don’t always have to be this way? Will the ordinary people finally beat the bad guys? Will Joaquín finally be able to do good without having to check with what the men upstairs?

And to make this book just that much better, Joaquín is pure entertainment to watch, with his banter and less-than-regulation ways of policing. I had a surprisingly good time reading Repentence, even though it’s set during one of the grimmest chapters of Argentina’s history.
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Repetance by Eloisa Diaz is an enthralling and engrossing read with a great plot and characters! Well worth the read
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This is not your usual thriller or crime story. Solving the case or avoiding immediate danger are not at the center of this exceptional story.
This is a historical, psychological and highly political book. Alzaro is trying to live a decent life during difficult times for Argentina. Corruption, disappearances, his guilt and his family make things difficult.
It took me a while to get into Diaz's writing style, but the novel gripped me an made me look up Argentinian history.
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