BROTHER ENEMY by Speer Morgan


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The last days of a leftist rÉgime on a Jamaica-like island--in a talented, uneven novel that flirts with black comedy, has some fine moments of Greene-ish character suspense, but ends up with all its energies devoted to a conventional triple-twist conspiracy involving the CIA and Cuba. This island's beleaguered Prime Minister is charismatic, unstable Neville Modyford. But Morgan's focus alternates between two sharply contrasting foreigners--each of whom, somewhat against his will, is called on to help the PM maintain control over his increasingly violent country (which is rapidly losing its tourist trade). From England to capital-city Navidad comes 60-ish, terminally ill, professor/journalist James Spencer, an acerbically broody chap known for his ability to spot the CIA behind incipient Latin American upheavals; so the PM wants Spencer's help badly, even using blackmail-pressure (evidence of Spencer's long-ago plagiarism) to get it. And from dusty Naore, at the other end of the island, comes miserable, dope-headed Texas drifter D. W. Frey, who keeps accounts for local strongman Papa Smallwood . . . until Papa lends Frey (and volatile black sidekick Leonard) to Modyford: the PM needs someone to carry huge sums of shady rescue money (Cuban?) from Naore to Navidad. Thus, while Spencer figures out the politics--he talks to an opposition newsman and the widow of an assassinated minister (she's soon murdered)--Frey takes possession of a million dollars, stops off for a hot affair with blackly beautiful Constance, and loses the money (his life too, almost) when Constance's angry Rastafarian brothers get hold of him. And eventually, while the violence escalates and the PM considers declaring a National Emergency (sure to bring total collapse), Spencer and Frey meet, becoming an unlikely, decrepit duo--as Spencer tries to reach the PM and convince him that outside powers have stage-managed the whole crisis . . . even the PM's emotional collapse. Unfortunately, this conspiracy-thriller windup (complete with longwinded explanations) doesn't satisfy the rich expectations raised earlier on--even though Morgan does, too heavyhandedly, create a final cynicism/idealism dilemma for Frey and Spencer (who declares ""The truth is important""). And the pacing throughout is shaky, with an uncertain balance between the characters' inner musings and the overall suspense framework. Still, Morgan (Belle Starr) is a generously gifted writer, and the dialogue here (in assorted dialects) is superb--as is the tourist-trap atmosphere. So, if this ultimately seems a contrived and rather naive political novel, it provides a good deal of textured, seriously ironic fiction-pleasure along the way.

Pub Date: Oct. 26th, 1981
Publisher: Little, Brown