The setting is the building of the Panama Canal. The main character is James Holt, a cowboy who had been with Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. Now he is a widower with a young daughter and owns a struggling cattle ranch. He'd met and spent time with Teddy Roosevelt years ago. When a summons arrives from the now president, Holt packs his bags. He is to go to Panama and do investigative work for Roosevelt, having his past due mortgage paid in return.
The plot becomes very complex after Holt arrives in Panama. He is not sure what he is to investigate and neither was I. There are a number of possibilities and they are confusingly mixed together. Holt meets Saffire, a girl about his daughter's age, while waiting to speak to his new boss. She is convinced her mother did not run off and abandon her as authorities claim. Holt is sympathetic to her plight, even thought she is a very street savvy girl and has her own protection. His inquiries about her mother get mixed in with his various investigations.
I found the action a bit hard to follow. Holt seems to bumble along, getting into trouble and then being rescued. There is much action in the novel, the culprits and their reasons hidden under layers of deception. There is a lengthy explanation at the end of the novel that clarifies all the participants and their roles. I prefer a plot where the deceptive layers are uncovered bit by bit rather than all at the end.
There are two strengths to this novel. One is the vast amount of information contained about the building of the canal. We get a great history lesson about the first attempt by the French, how the U.S. then came to build the canal, the deaths of workers, the ramifications of Panama winning independence from Columbia, and much, much more.
The other strength revolves around the characters and their interaction. There is clever dialog and funny puns. Holt is quick witted when it comes to verbal skills. Some of the characters are very well crafted. My favorite was Miskimon. He has a case of obsessive compulsive disorder long before such things were diagnosed. I was a bit disappointed we did not see more of Saffire, the namesake of the novel. We do find out in the end that she was around but she has such an interesting personality I would have liked a greater involvement in the plot.
I was also disappointed that there was not more of a spiritual aspect to the novel. While it is published by a traditionally “Christian” publisher, I would not identify the book as a “Christian” novel. It contains nothing that would separate it from being identified as being in the general historical fiction genre.
Much of the novel revolves around actual historical events and Brouwer has provided a great deal of information at http://sigmundbrouwer.com/saffire/.
My rating: 4/5 stars.
Sigmund Brouwer is the best-selling author of nearly thirty novels, with close to four million books in print. He has won the Christy Book of the Year and the Arthur Ellis Award, as well as being nominated for two TD Children's Literature Awards and the Red Maple Award. He splits his time between Nashville, Tennessee and Red Deer, Alberta. He and his wife have two daughters.
Waterbrook, 336 pages.
I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.