Prolific Pulitzer Prize winner Butler (A Small Hotel, 2011, etc.) casts his net in distinctly shallower waters when he follows the adventures of a brash American journalist in 1914 Mexico.
Revolution is raging, as usual, when Christopher "Kit" Marlowe Cobb arrives in Mexico to interview Gen. Victoriano Huerta. Preoccupied with the rebels Emiliano Zapata and Venustiano Carranza, el Presidente declines to speak with the press after all. By that time, however, an international incident is brewing between Mexico and the U.S., and Kit figures there’ll be plenty of work of one sort or another for him and his Underwood. So he’s already on the alert when oompah band musician Gerhard Vogel suddenly reveals himself as an American spy who shares Kit’s interest in the question of why the German ship Ypiranga has disgorged sinister “businessman” Friedrich von Mensinger and a number of his countrymen and loosed them on Vera Cruz. Tearing himself from his abortive pursuit of Luisa Morales, who washes his clothes but refuses to provide other services, Kit joins Vogel in his investigation of Mensinger only to find himself working alone when Vogel’s throat is cut. Acting with more decisiveness than prudence, Kit pinches the passport from Vogel’s corpse and prepares to follow Mensinger to Coahuila, where strongman Pancho Villa reigns supreme. There’ll be more subdiplomatic shenanigans, more violence (Kit ends up killing four men), and, yes, more romance before Kit, home again in Chicago, receives a letter from President Wilson that sends him back to Mexico for a coda that seems oddly tacked on.
Kit is such an ingratiating narrator that you almost forget how unthrilling his larky debut is. Maybe the planned series can provide him with adventures more worthy of his steel.