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by Raymond M. Saunders

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-89141-481-9
Publisher: Presidio/Random

 The most recent caper for Fenwick Travers, lately involved in picaresque adventures in Cuba and China (not reviewed): here, we learn how this agent provocateur was the key to securing US sovereignty over the Panama Canal Zone in 1903. Fenny's boon companion, Diamond Jim Brady, lets him in on a couple of sure things that Fenny badly needs in order to repair his wasted fortunes until he can get his hands on fiancÇe Alice Brenoble's trust fund. But the fix and the horse both go bad and Fenny takes vengeance with his smoking Colt .45, only to be interrupted by federal agents who whisk him to a meeting with President Theodore Roosevelt. There, he's briefed by Secretary of War Elihu Root, Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood, and Teddy himself on the need for a canal, the politics of the Isthmus, and the bankrupt French effort of the 1880s. Unfortunately, though, Panama is part of Colombia, and the government in Bogot† is both greedy and obdurate. Fenny's role is to stir the Panamanian pot until a case can be made for gunboat support of a coup whose leaders will favor US interests. The ante goes up when Fenny is accosted by another old friend, Richard Harding Davis, the newspaperman, whose cronies include William Nelson Cromwell (of Sullivan & Cromwell), general counsel to the New Panama Canal Company, and Philipp Bunau-Varilla, whose investment in the busted French canal company, he hopes, might be recouped. The men know all about Fenny's assignment and add a healthy bribe to encourage his efforts. With money-hunger and lust his constant companions, Fenny carries out his orders in style, coping with battle and bedroom, captivity and catastrophe, and showing his customary high regard for his own appetites. A highly diverting history lesson, full of real-life figures behaving as they might have behaved; and Fenny is an entertaining scoundrel.