Red April, By Santiago Roncagliolo (trs Edith Grossman)

Dark shadows cast by the Shining Path

With its lurid cover – roses, a blood-spattered cross – you could mistake Red April for a third-rate teen vampire romp.

But Santiago Roncagliolo's debut novel is an intelligent exploration of the legacy of Peru's battle against the left-wing Shining Path insurgents in the 1980s and '90s: brutal, unsettling, adult fare. Prosecutor Chalcatana, a lowly bureaucrat, is involved in the investigation into a series of grisly murders.

He suspects a resurgence of Maoist terrorism, and is laughed off. But the violence escalates, and Chalcatana is soon out of his depth. Starting out as a conventional crime thriller, the novel grows into a work of great literary sophistication, worthy of comparison with Mario Vargas Llosa's Death in the Andes.

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