McConnell debuts with an enigmatic potpourri of violent intrigue and homoeroticism.
Somewhere East of Suez, a shady young expatriate watches over 24 boxes of U.S. silver dollars. He hails from the city of Z (famous), but right now is in the riverfront city of B (obscure); we’ll call him N (for nameless narrator). His job as a middleman is to launder this dirty money and make a profit through his trading; anything less and his brutal boss could have him murdered. To complicate matters, a civil war is raging in this backward tropical country, and there are many parties involved: the rebels, the government, foreign-owned companies and an eccentric oligarchy, the Mandarins. Don’t let that last name fool you; there’s no China connection. McConnell savors situations that are, to use his favorite expression, out-of-true. The bong, or warehouse, where N had stored his boxes is being shelled; there have been deaths; time is of the essence. N pays a 16-year-old sailor, Topher, to get his boxes on a vessel going downriver. Is N abandoning the bong’s workers, all of whom he knew? That ethical question will linger. Meanwhile, muscular Topher is an object of fascination for both N and the obese captain, though neither man will act on his desires. N cannot open himself to love; “violence and mistrust made such pleasurable good sense to me that I luxuriated in them.” McConnell skillfully evokes a shadow-world of ambiguities, but N’s existential drama and his immediate quandary both languish; expect foreplay without consummation. N arrives in the capital and hides his boxes in a seedy hotel. His boss calls from Z. Is N intending to abscond with the silver and risk the consequences? Who knows? The end is a mess, though N’s final, delirious vision of some handsome sailors is fitting.
Powerful atmospherics are not enough to sustain this ambitious study of corruption.