A gaping trapdoor abruptly plunges Dr. and Mrs. Liberal America into a Central American inferno--only to have them emerge with indelible scars in Faust's first novel since The Burning Sky (1978). At curtain's rise, Martin Springer, a ``Sunday supplement saint'' who flew south to bring the blessings of medicine to the benighted, is being held by communist rebels, maybe (right-wing government functionaries, and the local CIA drone, direly hint) because he's witnessed a politically incorrect massacre, maybe for no special reason. Springer's wife Katherine, frantic to free him before his threatened execution, blusters her way through a thicket of brass hats and bureaucrats in order to offer a ransom for Martin--unaware that he's already been freed by mysterious maverick Colonel Felipe Fuerte, who tricks him out in a helicopter-pilot's uniform, abandons him on a promising riverbank, and tells him to make his own way back to the city. Too late: by the time Martin's struggled back to Kit's arms, she's already caught the eye of Internal Security chief Jorge Cabeza de Vaca, who--furiously humiliated that she's spurned his oh-so- romantic advances--has her arrested from Martin's side at a restaurant and placed in a brothel. Martin, who hasn't come this far for nothing, retaliates by kidnapping Vaca's comely daughter Selene and forcing Vaca into an exchange--which is no sooner successfully negotiated than Vaca, convinced Selene's spent the evening in the same activities as Kit, challenges him to a duel. A chilly epilogue shows Kit licking her grievous wounds back in Wisconsin, wondering if she'll ever be herself again. Though the plot constantly flirts with Perils-of-Pauline heroics, and the characters often sound like understudies for a roadshow ``Snows of Kilimanjaro,'' Faust's study of their violation taps deep into a powerful question: Is there life after melodrama?