The Glass Diplomat
by S.R. Wilsher
The Glass Diplomat
In 1973 Chile, as General Augusto Pinochet seizes power, thirteen-year-old English schoolboy Charlie Norton watches his father walk into the night and never return. Taken in by diplomat, Tomas Abrego, his life becomes intricately linked to the family.
Despite his love for the Abrego sisters, he’s unable to prevent Maria falling under the spell of a left-wing revolutionary, or Sophia from marrying the right-wing Minister of Justice.
His connection to the family is complicated by the growing impression that Tomas Abrego was somehow involved in his father’s disappearance.
As the conflict of a family divided by politics comes to a head on the night of the 1989 student riots, Charlie has to act to save the sisters from an enemy they cannot see.
The Glass Diplomat is quite literary in its style of writing with beautiful imagery and phrasing, signs of a talented author and a good tale ahead.
It was way more than a good tale, though. I loved this story.
For Charlie, as a young teenager, spending the summer holidays in Chile where his father ran a business, proved to be a life changer. Not only was he introduced to the Abrego sisters (Maria and Sophia – poles apart, yet equally as tempting for Charlie. They became the forbidden fruit that constantly enticed him back), but he also witnessed his father’s ‘disappearance’ – a puzzle that plagued him for years to come.
Charlie’s father came across as a strong, principled man. Following his ‘disappearance’, his character was twisted by many, including the Diplomat himself, Señor Tomas Abrego (father to Maria and Sophia) – to suit their corrupt purposes. The manner in which the author kept digging for the truth through Charlie led to some fascinating and emotionally torturous scenes – his father’s implied affair with Abrego’s wife, his refusal to succumb to the demands of some rather sinister businessmen who wanted to take over his factory and use it for armaments. The tension and mystery in those scenes proved to be very clever plotting. Totally absorbing.
Time and time again Charlie – a journalist in adulthood – would return to Chile. Each time I yelled at him not to go. (You know it’s a good book when you ‘talk’ to the characters. Or is that just me?) Anyway, he wouldn’t listen, and his connections to the infamous diplomat Tomas, made him an obvious choice for his editor. Although, it wasn’t just the pursuance of a newsworthy story that drew Charlie back to Chile. Those Abrego girls – Maria, the lively young photographer, caught up with a rebel, and Sophia, the elder daughter, putting duty first as her mother had done – lured him like a siren.
However, the backstory – while fascinating – did take up a lot of the story. I almost had forgotten the opening scenes when Charlie was battered and bruised and expecting a brutal death. It was 65% (Kindle) before the story returned to that scene.
The pace picked up considerably after the halfway point, the stakes amplified with each visit he made to Chile. As a journalist, his articles were refreshing. Through them, he told the reader how he saw things, he didn’t hide his personal connection, nor did he try to force anyone to accept his point of view. He provided facts, sources, evidence – it was exciting to read his articles, worrying too that he was making life worse for himself and potentially those he loved. That he went back to Chile so often, proved what a good man he was – the Abrego sisters had a hold over him, and he’d do whatever he could to help them. Each time the stakes grew higher as he became more embroiled in their lives – no longer just the crush of a thirteen year old boy.
As he finally understood what had happened to his father, he became more confident in the steps he had to take. Nonetheless, he always seemed quite vulnerable, as though the balance might tip against him at any given moment. He walked a tightrope between Chile and London, where he struggled to find the love of his life and settle down. Of course, it became clear where his heart lay – or rather with whom. Although, solving his father’s ‘disappearance’ was always at the forefront of his mind, sometimes he seemed more driven by that than by looking out for himself and the woman he loved.
This was an interesting insight into a different time and a different culture – when corruption via threats and violence won the day, when a wife turned a blind eye to her husband’s affairs, and when speaking up or offering an alternative meant a certain death.
I appreciated learning what became of the Chilean men who had so dramatically – and horribly – influenced his life but I felt the tying up of loose ends in the final chapters was too drawn out.
All in all, though, I shall remember this story for its great characters, fabulous settings, high intrigue, tension and drama. Coupled with phrases like “He also wore a small, gratuitous red tartan scarf, as if he was the Grim Reaper dressed by Vivienne Westwood” and “Tomas Abrego sounded like a butcher happy to sell you sausages, but not talk about its contents”, this was a riveting story, beautifully crafted and thoughtfully told. I’ll be adding SR Wilsher’s future work to my reading list without a second doubt.
It didn’t occur to me to write until I was twenty-two, prompted by reading a disappointing book by an author I’d previously liked. I wrote thirty pages of a story I abandoned because it didn’t work on any level. I moved on to a thriller about lost treasure in Central America; which I finished, but never showed to anyone. Two more went the way of the first, and I forgave the author.
After that I became more interested in people-centric stories. I also decided I needed to get some help with my writing, and studied for a degree with the OU. I chose Psychology partly because it was an easier sell to my family than Creative Writing. But mainly because it suited the changing tastes of my writing. When I look back, so many of my choices have been about my writing.
I’ve been writing all my adult life, but nine years ago I had a kidney transplant which interrupted my career, to everyone’s relief. It did mean my output increased, and I developed a work plan that sees me with two projects on the go at any one time. Although that has taken a hit in recent months as I’m currently renovating a house and getting to know my very new granddaughter.
I write for no other reason than I enjoy it deeply. I like the challenge of making a story work. I get a thrill from tinkering with the structure, of creating characters that I care about, and of manipulating a plot that unravels unpredictably, yet logically. I like to write myself into a corner and then see how I can escape. To me, writing is a puzzle I like to spend my time trying to solve.
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Thanks for reading 😉