The kidnapping of an American businessman in the Philippines sets in motion an odd series of events involving his estranged son, a hard-boiled cop who inspired a hugely popular film series and a ragtag strike force with special powers.
Yates' accomplished debut is an unlikely mix of folktale, Tarantino-esque pulp fiction, island adventure and geopolitical novel. Howard Bridgewater, a high-rolling ugly American whose firm services resorts, has been living in the Philippines for five years. Prompted by his ex-wife's death in Chicago, he convinces his grudge-ridden son Benicio, who lives in Virginia, to come over for a visit. By the time Benicio arrives, Howard has been abducted by a hapless, meth-addicted cab driver named Ignacio who plans on selling him to Moro terrorists. Problem is, he can't find any buyers. The bigger problem is that shady supercop Reynato Ocampo is after him, backed by an impressionable kid who can shoot anyone or anything at any distance (he's a devout fan of the "Ocampo Justice" movies) and a soldier who can turn into a dog or horse or spider. (Ignacio's nasty sidekick is a rooster who smokes.) Reynato is having an affair with Monique, a stressed U.S. Embassy officer who recently relocated to her native soil from America with her insomniac husband and kids; Solita, the prostitute, is demanding support money for the boy who may or may not be Howard's, and Charlie, the actor who plays Ocampo, is shamelessly running for political office. Yates handles the multiple points of view and fragmented narrative flawlessly. As outrageous as the action gets, he keeps his distinctive voice consistent and his tone measured, masterfully modulating the comic and violent effects. There's unexpected depth of emotion in the relationships and in the characters' connection to the land. The author lived in the Philippines when he was a teenager, and later returned to work at the U.S. Embassy. His feeling for and physical descriptions of the islands strongly reflect that experience.
An unusual and unusually involving first novel with strong characters and nifty supernatural effects.