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 there.
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.