Unger (The Price of Escape, 2011, etc.) bases his latest novel on the true story of a Guatemalan lawyer who planned his own murder in 2009, fleshing out the story with healthy shots of sex and corruption.
Guillermo Rosensweig is a morally ambiguous character at best. Educated in the United States, he returns to Guatemala as a lawyer and a proudly right-wing capitalist. As his marriage fails, he begins a long string of casual affairs. Everything changes when Ibrahim Khalil, a government official, hires him to investigate some financial irregularities in his office. Guillermo is immediately fascinated by Khalil’s daughter Maryam; the two begin an intense affair that results in the end of both their marriages. As the prologue makes clear, things will not work out well: the affair seems to proceed a little too easily, despite Ibrahim’s obvious awareness of it. And the financial misdeeds get deeper and more ominous as the case goes on. The violent undercurrent of contemporary Guatemala barely registers to the increasingly self-absorbed Guillermo, who misses a number of crucial chances to escape his downfall.
The political elements in Unger’s story become more gripping through the eyes of his flawed protagonist. He’s especially good at subtly shifting the tone of the narrative so that danger signs build up around Guillermo before either he or the reader realizes.