The Laughing Falcon
Reviewed: June 4, 2004
By: William Deverell
Publisher: M & S paperbacks
416 pages, $9.99
Every so often William Deverell departs from the courtroom drama/farce that
is his best known stock in trade and takes us on an excursion into the unknown.
In this case, the unknown is Costa Rica, a place that is not perhaps quite so
unknown to Pender Island's Deverell, since he spends a portion of his winters
Still, it's pretty exotic to Maggie Schneider, who writes ad copy for a Saskatoon
television station to pay the rent, and lives more vicariously while writing
moderately successful romance novels.
She's off to Costa Rica for a working vacation, to get a break from the Canadian
winter, and soak up some background for her latest book, The Torrid Zone. We
don't begin with Maggie, however. We begin with a letter from a literary agent,
a letter to one Jacques (better known as "Slack") Cardinal, a passionate
eco-poet and sometime tour guide who Rocky would like to have produce just one
pot boiler thriller to make it all worthwhile. Our journey through The Laughing
Falcon will have us peering over the shoulders of both Maggie and Slack by turns,
with chapters titled like things they might have written: "Hymns to a Dying
Planet", "The Treasure of Savage River", "No Time for Sorrow."If
this sounds to you like it's going to be a comic farce about a clash of creative
souls, you'd be correct in expecting there to be an element of that in it. But,
as Rocky has warned his client, to be a page turner a book needs a little excitement,
and we get that in spades not long after Maggie has the luck to fall in with
a US Senator and his bombshell wife. Chuck Walker wants to rise to the Whitehouse,
while Gloria-May just wants to raise the expectations of each man she meets.
Everyone's temperature gets a boost when the ragtag soldiers of the Movimento
Cinco de Mayo arrive at the isolated tourist retreat, kidnap the two women and
haul them off into the bush, leaving demands for a ransom behind them.
In short order Maggie moves from writing a romance novel to penning an exclusive
interview with Chuck and Gloria-May to being the official chronicler of the
hostage taking, part of a plot that has more twists and turns in it than the
thriller Slack's agent would like him to write.
Cardinal, on the other hand, becomes part of the effort to reclaim the ladies,
recruited by the Senator, who knows of his clandestine background with American
secret ops. This is a complicated operation, considering that it involves the
spiritual leader of the Cinco de Mayo group, an imprisoned former civil servant
who is clearly not operating with a full deck, Slack himself has
a distressing tendency to go on serious benders - his way of coping with the
post traumatic stress disorder left over from his previous life.
The story careens along a fine line between thriller and farce, managing
to be both, although sometimes leaving the reader wishing that the writer could
have made up his mind. Deverell's own ambivalence about writing anything in
an absolutely straightforward fashion is probably reflected in the exchange
of letters between Slack and his agent.
Any complaints I might have about the book are not serious ones. I enjoyed
both lead characters, even when their actions were predictable, and the little
twist in the ending made up for any problems I might have had.