A young American finds love and danger in the steamy streets of Rio de Janeiro—with a twist—in Graham (Angel of Mercy & Standoff at Mustang Ridge, 2017, etc.) and Murray’s novel.
River Roulet, a veteran of the Iraq War, luxuriates in his simple life in Brazil, sleeping under the stars and eating fresh food from the market. He has made a few good friends, though he is troubled by nightmares of bombs and raids, and occasionally he hears the haunting laughter of a child. When he meets Natal, a beautiful, free-spirited journalist, he begins to think that he might really be able to live a full and happy life, as she captures his heart in a few short days. But Natal has secrets, and, as it turns out, so does River. The writing is somewhat overwrought, but the setting of the novel intrigues. While it may idealize Rio and its surrounding areas, it’s also well-developed through lots of sensory language and description of both the natural beauty of the area and the vibrant culture of Carnival. River and Natal are almost too good; despite their secret lives, their love seems uncomplicated and, again, idealized. It’s hard to imagine that this perfect union could last, because we never see any flaws in them or in their relationship. The novel tries to compensate for these simplified characters with a not-so-satisfying plot twist, falling back on some clichés about PTSD. But maybe it’s enough that the reader gets to see and hear and smell and imagine the most beautiful and cacophonous sides of Rio, to dream of traveling to exotic places that, seemingly, have no dark side to threaten true love.
A pretty, airy fairy tale for a modern time—though the end briefly acknowledges that perfection can only ever be an illusion.