For President Teddy Roosevelt, controlling the east-west passage between two oceans mattered so much that he orchestrated a revolution to control it. His command was to ‘let the dirt fly’ and for years, the American Zone of the Panama Canal mesmerized the world, working in uneasy co-existence with the Panamanian aristocrats.
It’s in this buffered Zone where, in 1909, James Holt begins to protect a defenseless girl named Saffire, expecting a short and simple search for her mother. Instead it draws him away from safety, into a land haunted by a history of pirates, gold runners, and plantation owners, all leaving behind ghosts of their interwoven desires sins and ambitions, ghosts that create the web of deceit and intrigue of a new generation of revolutionary politics. It will also bring him together with a woman who will change his course—or bring an end to it.
While I’ve heard of Sigmund Brouwer I’ve not read any of his previous novels. I’m intrigued by this novel because of the plot information and the exotic setting. I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything set around the building of the Panama Canal.
James Holt is sent to Panama as a favor to an old friend. He doesn’t know the reason for the trip but plans to spend no more than 24 hours in the fledgling country. A chance meeting persuades him to stay marginally longer, but he regrets every minute spent away from his North Dakota ranch. Little does he know a perfunctory search for a missing woman will turn into a dangerous investigation into sabotage and political intrigue. After a nasty run in with the National Police, Holt isn’t sure who else he can trust besides the unassuming clerk T.B. Miskimon.
The plot of Saffire is complicated at times, with several twists and turns. Some clues are easy enough to piece together while other information has to almost be forced from the pages. There’s a multinational cast of characters from the eponymous Saffire to the aforementioned Miskimon, but I found it difficult to remember who some of the minor characters were in relation to the plot and each other. I couldn’t work out how old Saffire was: I get the feeling she was younger than she appeared. Miskimon is introduced as being “prissy” but he grew on me and reminded me of a mix of Bertie Wooster’s Jeeves and Batman’s Alfred. I was surprised to later learn this particular clerk was an historical character. He’s not the only historical figure to appear in the book either.
Saffire is a fascinating portrayal of America’s Panama exploits, with plenty of detail of life in the Canal Zone. There’s also something about it that I can’t quite describe, a certain je ne sais pas if you will. The one aspect I didn’t care for was the romance, which could’ve been left out in my opinion. Overall, Saffire isn’t a mind blowing book but it is one I enjoyed reading.
Thank you to Blogging for Books for my complimentary uncorrected proof of Saffire.
Have you read Saffire? Do you plan to read it? Let me know your thoughts.
Publisher: Waterbrook (an imprint of Penguin Random House)
Publication Date: 16 August 2016
Page Count: 336