The Neruda Case by Roberto Ampuero

neruda caseThe Neruda Case by Roberto Ampuero, translated by Carolina De Robertis
Riverhead Books, June 2012
First published as El caso Neruda, 2008
Source: library

Roberto Ampuero is a writer, professor, and diplomat based in the United States and Mexico who was born in Chile.The Neruda Case is the sixth book in the Cayetano Brulé series, but it’s the first to be translated into English.

In this book, Cayetano Brulé, a fiftyish private investigator reflects back to his first case: the ailing Pablo Neruda hired Brulé to find the missing Dr. Bracamonte, an old friend of his who specialized in treating cancer with plants. The story takes place in Valparaíso, Chile, a coastal city north of Santiago, and the strongest parts of the story take place there.

While the book begins in contemporary Chile, the case Brulé remembers takes place in 1973, at the end of the Allende’s years in power. The actual investigation takes Brulé to various locations in Latin America and Europe (another one of those well-funded investigations), but I think the most vivid parts of the story, description-wise and action-wise, take place in Chile. The food, the fog, the political upheaval in Chile– all of these aspects of the story were more vivid for me than the search for the missing Dr. Bracamonte.

The search for Bracamonte feels very different than the Chile-based parts of the story. In part it’s because Ampuero introduces lots of characters and provides lots of political background about each country Brulé visits, but, more, importantly, the search for Bracamonte felt secondary to me because I was not very invested in the character of Pablo Neruda, who comes across as quite the self-absorbed womanizer. I didn’t care whether he found Bracamonte. Also, the female characters were not very developed they tended to be either sex objects or humorless revolutionaries, which is unfortunate. This book is not a pure detective story, and, as such, the plot tends to lag.

I’m not sure how representative The Neruda Case is of the rest of the Cayetano Brulé series of books in terms of style and plot. It is well-written and well-translated, but I didn’t care for Neruda, and I don’t think I was meant to.

An interesting review appears in Washington Independent Review of Books.

8 thoughts on “The Neruda Case by Roberto Ampuero

  1. Rebecca – I’m sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy this more than you did. Still, I know exactly what you mean about writers who evoke a particular place, the way Ampuero evokes Chile. That atmosphere and context alone can make a book worth reading and I may read this one. Still I must confess I’m not sure about the way the female characters in this novel are depicted; it doesn’t sound particularly appealing. I really do appreciate your thoughtful and honest review.

    • Thanks, Margot. I’m not sorry I read this one, but it was more interesting as a story about Chile in the 1970’s than as a story about the formation of a private investigator. One other problem I had comes from the trickiness of centering a story around a missing person: the author can’t give away too much about the character at the beginning but she also needs to keep the reader interested.

  2. Hi Rebecca – I read this one last year. Sounds like I enjoyed parts of it more than you did; I found the mystery quite interesting but agree with your assessment of the characters.

    • I run across lots of positive reviews that don’t exactly explain why the bloggers/reviewers like them so much, and I hope to avoid that issue, whether the review is positive or more critical.

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