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By Laura Roth
I love historical fiction. Since it often revolves around wars, particularly the Civil War or the World Wars, those periods have been the backdrop for many of the books I read. So, when I saw Saffire by Sigmund Brouwer, a novel set in Panama during the building of the Panama Canal, I was immediately intrigued to learn about an unfamiliar-to-me era. When I realized that Saffire is the name of a little girl who is searching for her mother who has disappeared, my mom instincts kicked in, and I was hooked.
James Holt has been summoned to the world-famous American Zone of the Panama Canal in 1909, where President Teddy Roosevelt has commanded to “let the dirt fly” in an effort to control the east-west passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Holt’s job is to work undercover to try to discover the mystery behind the disappearance of a young girl’s mother.
The job seems simple enough, and he isn’t sure why Teddy Roosevelt himself, a friend from Holt’s youth long before the former was president and the latter was part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, would offer to cover the mortgage on his ranch in the Badlands just to ask some simple questions.
Holt soon realizes that there is far more involved than a missing woman who mysteriously and improbably abandons her mixed-race daughter, Saffire. He soon finds himself investigating sabotage at the canal site, where conspiracies between Panamanian aristocrats and a variety of possible foes abound.
Despite the intrigue, it is Saffire herself who keeps Holt rooted to Panama longer than he expected. She reminds him so much of his own daughter that he simply can not walk away from her without giving her answers about her mother.
The book is a very quick read, well-paced and intelligently written. The historical information about the canal rarely bogs down the storyline itself, which too often happens in other historical novels. My primary criticism is that the narrative seemed to jerk a bit from investigating Saffire’s mother’s disappearance to uncovering more about the issues at the canal site itself. I feel like Holt (and the reader) could have been given just a bit more information at his initial meeting in Panama without affecting his decision to stay and help.
I especially enjoy the brief flashbacks where Holt reveals more and more about his personal life. Frankly, I wish they were longer or that there were simply more of them, as those were where we really got to know him as a person, instead of as a caricature of an American cowboy, as most Panamanians view him. I would recommend this book, as I found the story very engaging, full of intrigue and unexpected character twists.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review, but the opinions are completely my own. Click here for more info.