In marked contrast to Fuentes' last novel, the broad-keeled and mythic Terra Nostra, this is a spy mystery, a sort of object fable linking the subterranean and inherently puzzling Mexican character to shady, cloak-and-dagger goings-on. Felix Maldonado, a Mexican bureaucrat specializing in the nationalized oil industry, finds one day that no one he works with seems to recognize him. At a reception for the Presidente he faints, later waking up swaddled in bandages and the victim of unasked-for plastic surgery. His identity, it seems, has been permanently borrowed: the old "Felix Maldonado" has been put to use as a sacrifice by a cell of Mexican Intelligence that's attempting to fend off attempts by both the Arabs and Israelis to neutralize a recent Mexican oil find. Triple agents, a clear-stoned ring that contains laser holographs, old flames of Felix's, various murders--and meanwhile Felix doesn't really know what the devil is going on. Fuentes, not completely comfortable with the form, provides another narrator three-quarters of the way through to make the action intelligible (as well as to add a long discourse upon the Arab-Israeli problem, the idea of terror in modern society, the suitability or unsuitability of the Mexican temperament to such high-stakes power). Either the clarification ought to have come earlier or been left out completely; as it stands, the book's gears--spy-story vs. think-book--don't mesh: it zooms, stalls, smokes, chugs. A bumpy ride, then, serious but unsure of itself, neither smoothly entertaining nor genuinely provocative.