I wouldn't call The Secret in Their Eyes a thriller (although it develops some thrills toward the end), or even a mystery. The novel tells a very personal story of one man's role in the Argentinean system of criminal justice, his mild obsession with an unsolved murder, and the difficulty of pursuing the truth in a corrupt political regime.
Facing a lonely, dreaded retirement from his life as a deputy court clerk, Benjamín Chaparro decides to fill his time writing the story of Ricardo Morales. When they first meet (in the 1960s), Chaparro is overseeing the investigation of Morales' pregnant wife's murder. The two men form a bond. Morales is, like Chaparro, a morose man who prefers rainy days to sunshine, who looks at photographs and feels a sense of loss for the "vanished paradise" they depict. Yet Chaparro envies Morales because Morales has experienced true love, while Morales drifts through relationships, marrying and divorcing, never content.
Chaparro harbors a secret love for a former co-worker named Irene, a judge who, thanks to his retirement, is no longer part of his daily life. Writing of unrequited love is, I think, a South American specialty, and Eduardo Sacheri does it masterfully. I could feel Chaparro's fears and regrets, his heartache -- "the ache of stifled feelings" -- in my bones. As Chaparro compares his life to Morales', the contrast is between a love kept hidden and a love lost: each tragic in its own way. Neither man knows how to live the rest of his life: Morales without the wife he loved, Chaparro without the joy of seeing Irene every day.
The murder investigation, such as it is, drags on for years, spurred forward by Chaparro's intuition and later by a fortuitous confrontation between a railroad conductor and the murder suspect. A third of the novel remains when the crime is solved, another sign that the investigation is secondary to the real story; a happy ending would not be true to the lives of either Chaparro or Morales. The novel then raises an intriguing moral question -- how much self-sacrifice should be expected from Chaparro to save Morales from harm? -- and concludes with a satisfying (if not entirely unexpected) twist as the secret of Morales' life is revealed.
I like the way the story is structured, the story within a story: Chaparro ponders the book he's writing (what scenes should he include or omit, whether the book is about Morales or himself), a story that Sacheri wraps around the novel that Chaparro actually writes; the reader benefits from reading both Chaparro's novel and the story of its creation. Sacheri indulges in a bit of political commentary (he has little good to say about Organía's military regime) but the novel isn't a polemic. It is instead a subtle, nuanced, absorbing look at the intersection of two lives and the difficult choices made by two decent men, with the addition of a beautifully unresolved romance (a story carefully designed to continue in the reader's mind after the novel ends). If I could, I would give The Secret in Their Eyes 4 1/2 stars.