The Neruda Case

Roberto Ampuero

In The Neruda Case, readers are introduced to Cayetano Brule as he takes on his first case as a private eye. Set against the fraught political world of pre-Pinochet Chile, Castro’s Cuba, and perilous behind-the-Wall East Berlin, this mystery spans countries, cultures, and political ideas, and features one of literature’s most beloved figures— the poet Pablo Neruda.

Cayetano meets him at a party in Chile in the early 1970s. The dying Neruda recruits Cayetano to help him solve the last great mystery of his life. As Cayetano fumbles around his first case, finding it hard to embrace the new inspector identity foisted upon him, he begins to learn more about Neruda’s hidden agenda. Neruda sends him on a whirlwind expedition around the world, ending back in Chile, where Pinochet’s coup plays out against the final revelations of their journey.

Evocative, romantic, and full of intrigue, Ampuero’s novel is both a glimpse into the life of Pablo Neruda as death approaches and a political thriller that unfolds during the fiercely convulsive end of an era.

Cayetano Brulé was an unemployed Cuban - in Valparaiso, Chile – until a chance meeting with the beloved Nobel-prize winning poet Pablo Neruda. Neruda decides to hire him as a private eye, expecting Cayetano to learn from Georges Simonon’s detective novels.

 

Cayetano devours the stories. Despite benefiting from Maigret's cases he questions how the fictional detective’s techniques might work in the real world. He also doubts that Sherlock Holmes or even Philip Marlowe would be able cope with investigating in Brulé’s tough environment.

 

First assuming that Neruda is seeking an old acquaintance, a maverick doctor – that might have a natural cure for the poet's cancer, Cayetano learns that the true purpose of his mission is quite different, if just as personal to Neruda.  

 

In a secretive world Cayetano encounters bureaucracy and suspicion. He’s followed, arrested, subjected to violence and hampered by the threat to the socialist Allende’s presidency. 

 

It’s a wonderful novel but don’t expect a typical murder mystery. This globe-trotting investigation - that does include an exciting visit to Berlin involving danger and romance – transcends the crime thriller genre. It’s a look at a fascinating period of history, a portrait of a great poet with human flaws, and an affectionate nod to detective fiction, both PI classics and cold war novels.

 

Much of the prose is gorgeous, and the translator, Carolina De Robertis, deserves recognition. The chapters are short, helping the pages fly by. Some of the highlights are those chapters narrated by Neruda. Close to death, the serial monogamist is in reflective mood, evaluating his life and loves and questioning his true legacy, as well as Chile’s turbulent political landscape.

 

The suspense builds and the story ends with a race against time set amid the brutal beginnings of Pinochet’s rule. Cayetano features in several novels but this, a prequel of sort, is the first to be translated into English. Engaging, romantic, evocative and thrilling – The Neruda Case is a real treat. 

 

About Roberto Ampuero:

Roberto Ampuero is an internationally bestselling, award-winning author. He has published twelve novels in Spanish, and his works have been translated around the world. The Neruda Case is his first novel published in English. Born in Chile, Ampuero is a professor of creative writing at the University of Iowa and currently serves as Chile’s ambassador to Mexico. He lives in Mexico City and Iowa City.