Scan almost any American bestseller list and you're probably going to find a crime novel. Although some see that as simply a reflection of reader interest in mysteries or thrillers, others have suggested it reflects an American fascination with violence. If that is true, at least we can be thankful that violence doesn't stem from political warfare.
Red April, the first book by Peruvian author Santiago Roncagliolo to be translated into English, is built around Peru's deadly internal warfare of the late 20th Century. Associate District Prosecutor Félix Chacaltana Saldívar has voluntarily transferred from a post in Lima, the nation's capital, to his childhood home of Ayacucho, the capital of a political region of the same name in the Andes Mountains. The Ayacucho Region was not only where the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), a Maoist revolutionary organization, committed what it called its first "act of war" against the Peruvian government, it was one of the areas of the country hardest hit by the brutal tactics of both the terrorist and counter-terrorist forces.
The story takes place between March 9 and May 3, 2000, some seven and a half years after the Shining Path's leader was captured and the organization fell into decline. Chacaltana, a well-intentioned yet odd and naive functionary, is called upon to investigate a severely burned body found in a hayloft. Even though the local police captain declines to perform his agency's part of the investigation, Chacaltana comes to believe that death has the markings of a terrorist act. This causes problems with the region's political hierarchy because, as the local Army commander tells Chacaltana, "in this country there is no terrorism, by orders from the top." Shortly thereafter, though, the commander assigns Chacaltana to be an election judge in a remote area of the region, an experience that leaves him convinced the Shining Path is still active and terrorizing peasants and villagers.
As additional gruesome murders occur, the prosecutor quickly realizes the victims are individuals he has interviewed as part of his investigations. "It's... it's as if I were signing their death sentences when I leave them," he says. We follow Chacaltana's investigation and realizations amidst the many churches and passions of the religious celebrations for which the city of Ayacucho is famous. Is he on the track of a serial killer or confronting a resurgent Shining Path? The book also provides a twist on what American readers have come to call the police procedural. Chacaltana assiduously attempts to follow established procedures, none of which are helpful in this case and in which he meets varying assistance and obstruction from the police captain, the Army commander, and a local judge.