"Red April" won a prestigious award in Spain. Although there are points at which this novel loses its thread, for the most part, it can keep you on the edge of your seat wondering exactly what will happen next and why. Nothing seems to add up, until the last few pages, as the main character tries out various theories.
This novel, set in Ayacucho, where the Shining Path was born, has been harshly criticized by some in Peru. There are details of Peruvian military, police, judiciary and fire arms that are, apparently, in error and which indicate a degree of sloppiness "unacceptable" in a thriller. (You and I won't notice.) However, their real criticism is that the book trivializes the internal conflict that consumed 70,000 lives in Peru, turning it into merely the backdrop for a series of bizarre murders that consume the principal character, Chacaltana. The same could be said for crime novels that use WWII, Nazi terror or other horrific backdrops, but those who are so close in time and place to the violence of those years have a right to be sensitive.
Other objections--such as the one that the novel portrays indigenous Peruvians as crude and violent bumpkins who speak Quechua gibberish--I think may be misplaced. As I read it, the novel intends(in part)to portray how the outsider elites--all people from Lima and other parts of the coast--view the indigenous people of the highlands. Although Chacaltana, as a low-ranking mestizo official, has to endure the ridicule of army, police and political players, he is not immune to plenty of prejudices of his own because, in essence, he is a Limeno, a man from the capital.
Chacaltana is pretty hard to take in his incredible naivete, and some readers have thrown up their hands and thrown out the book. But he is the consummate bureaucrat; Americans have had much less contact with these types than Latin Americans have. He is a pretty strange guy. If you have seen the film "Ojos que no ven" (What the Eyes don't See) by Peruvian director Francisco Lombardi, I could visualize him as the nerdy clerk in the Ministry of Justice--but with a law degree.
As far as the translation is concerned, the stilted language that one reviewer complained of is due to the intentionally stilted translations of Chacaltana's reports, written in bureaucratic legalese. (See very similar military communiques in Vargas Llosa's "Pantaleon y las visitadoras," hysterically funny in Spanish and much less so in English.) I did find the translation of the mysterious illiterate ramblings (never explained until the end) over the top. These sections could have been done a bit more subtly and still retained the flavor of the original, I think.