Chile, the birthplace of Nobel poet Pablo Neruda and setting for Chilean novelist Isabel Allende’s famous novel The House of the Spirits, Casa de los espiritus, is also home to the detective fiction of Roberto Ampuero, who created the unlikely private eye Cayetano Brulé.
As the first Detective Brulé novel opens, a rich Chilean businessman named Kustermann enters the detectives’ shabby office and sizes up the chain-smoking, balding, flabby, 40-something detective and looks on while the detective brews espresso and tries to get his morning hangover under control. Kustermann doesn’t like what he sees but Brulé is his last chance to uncover the murderers of his son and heir, Christian.
Christian died in a volley of bullets in his pizza parlor while closing up for the night. The police say that gangsters shot down Christian during a failed drug transaction, and they have officially closed the case for lack of witnesses or leads. Kustermann then paid other detectives to investigate, but they reached the same unacceptable conclusion as the police. Perhaps Brulé, who has connections in the shady Valpariaso world of petty crime and prostitution, can find the murderers and clear the family name of any taint of drug dealing.
Brulé methodically works his underworld contacts and discovers that Christian had communist connections and had returned to Chile from Germany under protection of the repatriation act recently adopted by the Chilean Democracy. Unraveling Christian’s life as an exile from Chile is the key to solving the crime and will lead Brulé first to Germany and then to Cuba before he finally solves this mystery and finds the murderers of Christian Kustermann.
Brulé will retrace in fiction the actual exile of the author Roberto Ampuero who fled Chile for Eastern Germany after the 1973 Chilean coup d’état that ousted the democratic government of Salvador Alliende and replaced it with the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Ampuero met and married his Cuban born wife in Eastern Germany and the couple moved to Cuba where they lived several years. Eventually they divorced and Ampuero returned to Chile to take up writing. His novels have been translated into German, Chinese and other languages, but it was not until he moved to the United States to teach literature that his novels appeared in English.
This first novel is a well written detective story that gives insight into the Chilean transition from dictatorship to democracy.
Day 24: ¿Quién mató a Cristián Kustermann?, Who killed Cristian Kustermann (Roberto Ampuero) (Chile, 1993).