1 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
Ameringer is primarily a non-fiction writer, and he should probably stick to non-fiction. This book reads like a spy dossier, technically detailing events, introducing names with no exposition or character development, and simply documenting a series of missions. The protagonist, Tom Miller, is a CIA agent specializing in Central America during the Cold War era. I was excited to learn more about Latin American modern history through a spy thriller, but instead I was overwhelmed with names and places with no background or context. If you know a lot about Latin American history already, this book may be interesting, spanning several decades and many historical events (including the Bay of Pigs, the Iran-Contra affair and Soviet spies in America during the Cold War). There is no compelling overarching story, merely a review of a spy’s career, interspersed with hints of a personal life that leave the reader wanting to take a nap.
The book starts in 1977 as Tom Miller, spy, discovers that the Central Intelligence Agency is forcing him to retire, due to a political “rough patch” in the American intelligence community. At this point, Miller has been a spy for about 26 years, working in the field as a covert operative in many Central and South American countries.While reading the first few pages, as Miller starts to reflect on some past operations, I was beginning to bemoan too much exposition, expecting the main story to start in 1977 and move forward. Halfway through the book, Ameringer was continuing to detail Miller’s operations prior to 1977, and I realized that, almost paradoxically, there was not enough exposition because nothing in the story made any sense.
Characters enter and exit the pages of this book with little to no introduction or context, so I swiftly became confused as to who is on which side and how one is supposed to view them. Some names get attached to brief physical descriptions that make one think they will become major players in this account of historical events, but it swiftly becomes clear that they probably won’t appear again or, if they do, one won’t be able to remember who they are. Perhaps if I had a background in Latin American history, I would recognize more names than the obvious standouts such as Fidel Castro.
The dialogue, sparsely integrated among descriptions of bungled operations and political machinations, is overly formal and unbelievable. Actual politicians don’t even talk in such awkward language. Ameringer tries to lighten up the prose with cliche phrases and casual innuendos, but fails to draw the reader into the conversation. As in the descriptive narration, names of people and places are dropped with no other reference either before or after the conversation.
The book continues past the 1977 opening (over halfway through the book), following Miller into the Midwestern world of mafia hitmen and corrupt wives and, circuitously, back into the world he thought he left in Central America. Although there is a little more mystery involved, the story fails to take off and ends in an anticlimax. There was no excitement, intrigue, suspense or semblance of a plot throughout the story and I finished feeling like I had wasted my time. The only reason this book gets a star is that it might be of interest to someone like Ameringer who knows a lot about the history and people of Latin America during the Cold War.
Comparisons to Other Authors:
Ameringer seems to be trying to emulate spy thriller masters such as John Le Carre, but he falls short by missing the key ingredients of character development and compelling plot. The writing is technically good but reads like a dry non-fiction biography of a has-been spy. It is hard to compare this book to others because usually when I start to read a book this boring, I give up and move on to something more interesting.