“On the day when the assholes of the world throw a party, those two will welcome the others at the door, serve them refreshments, offer them cake, lead them in toasts, and wipe the crumbs from their lips,” says judiciary employee Pablo Sandoval to his boss, Benjamin Chaparro in Eduardo Sacheri’s book, The Secret In Their Eyes. Sandoval is referring to two good-for-nothing Buenos Aires judges, but the cynicism of the remark is emblematic of the novel as a whole. “No one in charge can get anything right,” Sacheri seems to say. “Or rather, they refuse to.”
The Secret In Their Eyes is the story of Benjamin Chaparro, a retired judiciary employee of Argentina, and a murder case that forever altered his trajectory. In Sacheri’s novel, Benjamin writes a manuscript of his own—an autobiography of his experiences as a deputy clerk, where we are able to understand both him, and the time that he served during. Set against the backdrop of the political corruption of Argentina’s last military dictatorship, The Secret In Their Eyes is both a story of a man, and a snapshot of a country at its ugliest.
The tale that Benjamin recounts is fraught with intrigue, violence and heartbreak, but is particularly marked by the hopeless corruption of a wayward state. The injustice is not overplayed—if anything, Sacheri’s narration adopts a tired, “this is how it is” mentality, as no one seems particularly surprised at a world where criminals are rewarded. The overwhelming lack of idealism makes the particularly pernicious moments that much bleaker.
While Benjamin and his colleagues are focused intensely on combating the immorality within the police and courts, Sacheri does a nice job depicting an otherwise average Joe in the midst of the frenzy. Besides navigating the punctures in the legal system of Buenos Aires, Benjamin also must reconcile his unrequited love for Irene, a married colleague who he’s known for three decades. This aspect of the book is decidedly weaker than the detailing of the case, and while Sacheri excels at weaving it into the larger story, Benjamin’s quest for love just isn’t as compelling.
Nevertheless the book is paced well. The novel-within-a-novel trope works; Benjamin’s careful deliberation on how to tell his story gives greater weight to the work itself. As the book alternates between his first person account and third person chapters narrated through his perceptions, we’re allowed a look into the way Benjamin wants the story to appear, versus how he truly felt about the situation.
The word “thriller,” doesn’t quite fit here, but maybe that’s for the best; it’s a novel that feels authentic and still manages to be engaging. That said, I guarantee at least one jaw-dropping moment (I did this on the train and got a lot of looks). But perhaps what’s most powerful about Sacheri’s book is how comprehensive it is in its melancholia. The Secret In Their Eyes a book with no true moment of triumph or failure. After all, when a system is broken, there are no victors or losers—only fragments.