Journalist/teacher Gannon’s first novel takes readers back to 1986, when Nicaragua is torn by civil war, American intervention, mass executions and the odd serial killer.
Ajax Montoya has played many roles: a follower of Horacio de la Vega Cárdenas (“El Maestro”), a fighter with the revolutionaries, an accomplice to a political assassination, a captain in the Polícía Sandanista, a student of the thesaurus, a heavy drinker, and most recently, the man who failed to bring Fortunado Gavilan, who killed his girlfriend, alive through a standoff with the police. But Ajax and his new partner, Lt. Gladys Darío, have never been called on to solve a series of killings as brutal and apparently indiscriminate as they face now. Not that anyone is advertising their similarities. The only links between the recent stabbing of Enrique Cuadra, apparently during a robbery, and the shooting of Jorge Salazar five years earlier by State Security agents are a face in a telltale photo and a dream Cuadra’s widow Doña Gloria describes to Cuadra’s cousin, Epimenio Putoy, of her husband’s return. The deaths of a pair of lowlife informants confirm Ajax’s suspicions but do nothing to direct them toward the guilty party. And his unsought affair with Amelia Peck, the red-haired aide to a green Ohio Senator who’s visiting Nicaragua in search of information that would justify further American support for the Contras, plunges him into danger without clarifying the mystery. In a country that buries countless victims of violence every month, what are the odds that Ajax will find the murderous needle in the haystack?
Considering its level of mayhem, it’s remarkable that so few mystery writers have drawn on Nicaragua as a fictional setting. So Gannon’s dank, dense, tangled debut is doubly welcome.