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.