need to state at the outset that I had a bit of a problem while
reading BLOOD OF PARADISE by David Corbett. It's a simple one:
Corbett and I happen to have different world views. But, politics
aside, this is a haunting and compelling read from beginning to
The novel is set almost entirely in El Salvador, a country that
(depending on who you speak with) is either a Cold War success
story in the face of communist insurgency or yet another example of
an American foreign policy disaster. Corbett takes the latter
stance and views it through the reluctant eyes of Jude McManus, an
executive protection specialist who is assigned to guard Axel
Odelberg in a hostile and dangerous environment.
Odelberg is a hydrologist (Corbett does an exemplary job of
explaining what that is and how the job is done) who is tasked with
evaluating a plan for the expansion of a soft drink bottling plant.
Odelberg's considerations include the effect, if any, that this
will have upon the availability of water in the region, which is
crucial to the impoverished residents of the area around the plant
as well as to the business and political interests of the United
States. Much is riding on Odelberg's report, and McManus finds
himself kept busy protecting his charge, even as he is slowly and
unwillingly pulled into a political maelstrom.
The source of a good deal of his difficulties is Bill Malvasio, a
former Chicago policeman who fled a decade before to El Salvador
one step ahead of an indictment that ended the careers of a number
of Chicago policemen, McManus's father among them. Malvasio enlists
McManus's assistance in bringing Phil Strock, another former
Chicago cop and an expert sharpshooter, down to El Salvador,
ostensibly for guard duty but with more sinister intent.
Where BLOOD OF PARADISE truly shines is with the creation of the
murky situational undertow that Corbett creates and slowly pulls
McManus toward, even as we see (or think we see) where things are
heading. Corbett is an absolute master of creating a scenario
leading unexpectedly to explosive violence, and the result is a
work in which one is compelled to keep turning pages even as one
dreads seeing what will happen next.
Corbett weaves an extremely complex tapestry throughout BLOOD OF
PARADISE while, interestingly enough, making McManus a devil's
advocate --- a skeptic who wonders, with some merit, whether the
Salvadorans' lot in life would improve regardless of who governs
them. While things occasionally drag just a bit when one of the
socialists who wander in and out of the novel begins an oral
dissertation over tea, for the most part Corbett keeps the action
moving slowly but steadily toward a series of horrifying
denouements where it's difficult to sort out winners from losers
--- if indeed such classifications ultimately matter.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 22, 2010