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Thriller set in Central America (El Patan del rio)
3rd July 2017
Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy, thriller set in Central America.
This novel arrived in our office, billed as “Your Ticket To The Biggest Thriller of the Summer”… promised are sunshine, warm weather, missing children… all spelled out on a boarding card issued by Penguin Airlines. Intrigued? We certainly were, a perfect advert for #literarywanderlust!
This is a thriller with multi faceted strands that roil around like an octopus as the story unfolds. Liv and Nora, cousins, have persuaded their spouses and children to venture on a cruise over the Christmas and New Year holidays down towards Central America. Two families, four children. They meet up with an Argentinian couple – also with two children – on the boat. Confined on a ship, there are all the anticipated tensions of growing friendship groups and family dynamics.
The first port of call offers the men a chance to show off their golf prowess; the women, with all their children in tow, choose to head off to experience the thrills of a zip wire. The minibus arrives, they pile in and are off on the various excursions. But it is the transport for the women and children that fails, a blow-out and small crash leaves them wobbled but unharmed. Pedro, their driver suggests they head to a nearby beach to while away the time whilst replacement transport is found. Off they amble towards the beach. Mum Nora is soon off into the undergrowth with Pedro purportedly looking for blue-crowned motmots; the other two mums are lulled into sleep. The children are entertaining themselves in the water with rubber inner tubes.
But the tide turns and pushes the youngsters away from the beach, inland and up the river. The mothers don’t notice their disappearance – one being preoccupied, the other two still out for the count. And from this point on the frantic search is on. It is the odyssey of the childrens’ journey and survival and – or not – that keeps the reader hooked in. Drug barons, train journeys, crocodiles, another car crash and much more, all make for ample fuel to keep this gripping tale on the move.
The story is as much about fight and flight as it is about the relationships within the adult group as they bide their time for news. The parents are brought up short by the the thought that they may have lost their children (obviously!) and what the consequences would be for them as individuals, couples and being childless. Burgeoning mutually supportive relationships amongst the children develop, whose ages span a good 10 years, each child locked into a developmental stage and clutching at survival. Stress and trauma abound. The children are hugely resourceful compared with the generally rather vacuous responses from their families.
The setting is quite evocative – the country in which they find themselves is described as the Switzerland of Central America, which you can look up to determine the exact setting (it’s an atmospheric read but the publishers are not advertising the locale specifically, as it isn’t a great advertisement for the country!!). There are plenty of hot, jungle scenes, the buzzing of weird insects, animals and dusty roads to make the landscape feel scorching and oppressive.
This is certainly a gripping novel and I read it keenly. The elision at some points between scenes and chapters was a little jerky and the separate story of little Noemi and Chuy fed in but served, for me, more as a diversion rather than integral to the structure of the story. It seemed a device to highlight the absolute poverty of the locals compared to the wealth of the typical cruising guest, adding another layer to the story. So, in some ways this book is a meditation on the societal divide between rich and poor, North and Central America – I guess a very pertinent theme at the moment!
Overall, I think this will be a winner for the coming Summer months and you will see plenty of people reading this book poolside.
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Tina for the TripFiction Team
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