Irony-laden mayhem in Central America--as an Ugly American conglomerate, propelled by utter greed and sheer nastiness, uses bribery, blackmail, torture, and murder to hush up the discovery of a botanical hybrid with vast agricultural ramifications. ""Zdt""--a maize hybrid that could double the world's corn production--has been found growing in the Costa Rican mountains, an uninhabited area except for Saint Simon, a struggling cooperative coffee farm. So the sadistic hi-tech creeps at Associated Foods International (AFI) decide to wipe out all possibilities for Zdt proliferation--chiefly by shutting down Saint Simon, taking over the land, and eliminating anyone who gets in the way (or knows too much). But, when assorted bureaucrats in Costa Rica suddenly turn against Saint Simon, ordering its dismantling, British agro-economist Kit Carter--the idealistic local agent for UNAFO (UN Agricultural and Food Org.)--gets angry. . .and suspicious. And this makes him a prime target for AFI's ruthless hired guns, of course: they're soon determined to kill both Kit and his liberated wife Esther--a tough, sexy, smart black woman who battles the assassins with baby Zena strapped to her back, eventually killing several of the villains in a baroque jungle/chase finale. Rathbone (A Spy of the Old School, Base Case, etc.) works hard--sometimes too hard--at layering this basically familiar scenario with psychology, social dynamics, and narrative complexity: the subplots range front an AFI commando attack on a Nicaraguan field station to the Carters' sex lives: chunks of the story are narrated (in sardonic, slangy, flash-forward style) by bitter super-woman Esther--an awkward device which does add some spice and immediacy. So the result, with anti-American stereotypes and an implausible, tacked-on epilogue (Esther's revenge), is uneven, often disjointed, but far richer and denser than most thrillers: a dry, cynical blend of jaundiced politics, cartoonish conspiracy, and scenic (occasionally exciting) one-on-one action.