Complicated personal agendas get snagged in the politics of a volatile Central American country.
Jude McManus, a recent arrival in El Salvador, meets fellow American Eileen Browning on a beach, and the mutual attraction is apparent to both. Browning is doing postdoctoral work in cultural anthropology and is familiar with dangerous local power brokers. Jude, 27, works as an “executive protection specialist,” i.e., bodyguard, shadowing an American hydrologist named Axel Odelberg. In the wake of rising gang violence and a compromised police force, many outside “advisors” are working with foreign developers (Corbett—Done for a Dime, 2003, etc.—makes explicit the parallels between Iraq and El Salvador). Unexpectedly, Jude runs into Bill Malvasio, his father’s old partner in the Chicago Police Department. Their past is messy; Jude’s father took the fall for corruption while Malvasio and a third cop named Phil Strock got off scot-free. Teenaged Jude left shortly after to join the army, and his father died a year later under suspicious circumstances. Until that time, Jude considered Malvasio a second father. Malvasio hires him to bring Strock back from the States for a business proposition. Jude doesn’t bury his qualms, but puts them aside to fulfill the job. Strock, however, tells a very different story, casting Jude’s dad as a hero and Malvasio a rat. Complexity and scope expand when Jude returns to El Salvador with Strock. The story unfolds from multiple perspectives, with Jude’s romancing of Eileen hitting speed bumps due to her possible association with local terrorists; Malvasio having his long-awaited showdown with Strock even as his careful plans with local law and military threaten to crumble; and the FBI taking aggressive interest in all involved.
Polished writing and deeply engaging characters carry the reader through the sometimes murky intricacies of third-world politics. An extensive bibliography, glossary, map and essay outlining the story’s roots (both literary and sociological) are included.