A first novel by a British writer that, somewhat cynically, seems to want to wrap up all things Latin American into one package: myth, politics, comedy, economics, ethnology, geography, you name it. The result is a synoptic mess, filled more with cartoons than with anything else. In an unnamed and representative Andean country, the benevolent nobleman of the title hangs over the book as the kindest, foggiest deity, watching privilege war with poverty, guerrillas with the army, sexual repression with ``natural'' expression. A Navantes Indian girl is killed by a land mine and becomes transfigured into a cat--a cat who ultimately through magical means brings down the corrupt and bankrupt state kept propped up by financial schemes and a renegade army (a torture machine when it isn't being diverted by Falklands-style war fiascos). But de Berniäres, unlike Garc°a M†rquez and Isabel Allende, his too obvious templates, can't get his scene-lets to nugget or cohere in language that sings: the fabric is patchwork, unsinuous. There is encyclopedic, somewhat condescending filler (``machetes are sharpened assiduously on special boulders in the rivers until they are sharp enough both to shave with and chop down trees. They are used to slaughter animals by decapitation, which is very quick and humane...''), as well as political boilerplate (``Campesinos do not become guerrillas for the same reasons as middle-class intellectuals from towns''), but neither helps forge this into a novel. Synthetic and, worse, mostly a bore.