Fasten your seatbelts for a fast-paced and bumpy trip through the Central America jungle – and I’m not talking about the plant life – in Tim MacGabhann’s spirited new thriller. It’s a follow up to his 2019 hit debut, Call Him Mine, which Ian Rankin called ‘a wild ride’. He might just recycle that description for the new book, because that describes it perfectly.
Especially if you haven’t read the previous book, it takes a few chapters to get your feet under you and figure out what’s going on. Protagonist Andrew is an investigative reporter, traveling with fellow journalist Maya. They’ve made contact with some pretty dangerous characters over the years and that past is about to come roaring back.
On the good side of the ledger, Andrew is sticking to his commitment to get off the booze and the drugs and even showing up at occasional meetings of fellow addicts. But on the bad side is the death of Andrew’s photographer and lover Carlos, whom he misses acutely, even talking to him when the going gets rough. There’s also a ‘you’, whom Andrew sometimes directly addresses, and it isn’t Maya and doesn’t seem to be Carlos, either. I never figured that out, but MacGabhann gives us no lull in the action to stop and think about it.
One night at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, a stranger appears. At least he’s a stranger to everyone but Andrew. Andrew recognises him as an emissary from the man who so messed up his life, a gangster named Puccini. Racing through Andrew’s head is the thought that the man introduced himself simply as Marco and what he should have said was, “My name’s El Prieto, and I’m a fucking murderer.”
Puccini once worked for the governor of Veracruz, Mexico, doing extra-judicial work of a kind he can’t put on his resume. Recently, the governor, finally facing the legal consequences of his crimes, skedaddled out of Mexico to Guatemala, where Puccini’s daughter has been living quietly. Now she’s gone into hiding. Puccini and Marco know the governor will sell them and their whole squad out to stay out of jail. Getting his hands on Puccini’s daughter would be just extra insurance for him.
Puccini is determined to find his daughter before the governor does, and he wants Andrew and Maya to help. They’re professionals at digging up information. Maya’s supposed to get the daughter’s story and create a big media flap about how endangered she feels. After that, Puccini believes, the governor can’t touch her. Meanwhile, Andrew is tapped to help in a harebrained scheme to invade the governor’s hideaway.
He and Maya are reluctant, but, naturally, not given much choice. You may feel the setup is unlikely, but MacGabhann has you on the roller-coaster and you can’t get off until the end. Andrew ends up doing all kinds of things he hadn’t thought himself capable of, and, if Hollywood ever gets hold of this story, the filmmakers will need a huge budget for expendable vehicles. Every time the characters climb into a car, disaster ensues. Along the way, Andrew, Marco and Puccini encounter corrupt cops, roads that barely exist and city streets inconveniently jammed with cars and people.
The action is nonstop and, yes, these are some dangerous characters, but there’s a strong current of dark humour, as the men don their macho, insulating themselves from the horrors they are seeing, imagining, perpetrating. Do damage, move on quickly.
Toward the end there’s some seriously grisly torture, though. Any time the words eyeball and electric drill appear on the same page, I anticipate a rough patch. Read quickly through those few pages. Like everything else in the book, it’s over-the-top .
Meanwhile, the writing is excellent and so much is happening that you may not even tumble to MacGabhann’s impressive mastery of the language. The author was born in Kilkenny, Ireland, has been a reporter in Latin America, and now lives in Mexico City – experiences that give his story an immediacy and enough of the right details when you need them.
Weidenfeld & Nicolson
CFL Rating: 4 Stars