Uneven thriller about the assassination of Leon Trotsky in Mexico prior to World War II.
For this debut, journalist Davidson mines a real-life adventure that offers everything for an engaging thriller (mother-son tensions, world politics, exotic locales, a rhapsodic affair) but that emerges as uninvolving, however carefully executed. On a grim, fetid battlefield in Spain during the Civil War of 1936, Loyalist Lt. Ramón Mercader watches “a black sedan moving through the landscape of white limestone hills.” In the car comes his mother, Caridad, who wants to pull her son from the war against Franco to pursue a mission of far greater scope and consequence. The lieutenant resists, partly since his hard and expedient mother stood by while members of her Soviet party, working for Stalin, executed her other son because, she says, “[h]e put himself above the cause.” Now Stalin, fearful Trotsky will undermine the Russian leftist cause, as he did by splitting the leftists in Spain, wants Trotsky, residing in Mexico, taken out. Caridad entreats Ramón to undertake the assignment. Reluctantly, but obediently, he becomes the assassin. The mission requires Ramón to take on the identity of a Belgian aristocrat, then head to Trotsky’s headquarters. To infiltrate the Soviet’s compound, Ramón must pose as a suitor to Sylvia Ageloff, one of Trotsky’s followers, a rich, cultured Jew from New York. Predictably, Ramón and Sylvia fall in love, with Ageloff’s passivity and trust straining both credibility and the reader’s patience. Davidson describes his locales vividly and paces the story briskly, eventually building to a poignant, tragic and ironic denouement. But his characters, particularly Ramón and Caridad, whose back stories might rival The Manchurian Candidate’s Oedipal nightmare, lack the detail to develop them beyond their immediate objectives in the plot.
A well-crafted story hampered by insufficient character growth.