El Salvador: America’s great Cold War success story and the model for Iraq’s fledgling democracy–if one ignores the grinding poverty, the corruption, the spiraling crime, and a murder rate ranked near the top in the hemisphere. This is where Jude McManus works as an executive protection specialist, currently assigned to an American engineer working for a U.S. consortium.
Ten years before, at age seventeen, he saw his father and two Chicago cop colleagues arrested for robbing street dealers. The family fell apart in the scandal’s wake, his disgraced dad died under suspicious circumstances, and Jude fled Chicago to join the army and forge a new life.
Now the past returns when one of his father’s old pals appears. The man is changed–he’s scarred, regretful, self-aware–and he helps Jude revisit the past with a forgiving eye. Then he asks a favor–not for himself, but for the third member of his dad’s old crew.
Even though it’s ill-considered, Jude agrees, thinking he can oblige the request and walk away, unlike his father. But he underestimates the players and the stakes and he stumbles into a web of Third World corruption and personal betrayal where everything he values–and everyone he loves–is threatened. And only the greatest of sacrifices will save them.
“This big, brawny novel runs on full throttle from first to last page. Brutal and heartrendering, eloquent and important, this is a fully engrossing read.”
“A Quiet American for the new century. Angry and impassioned, Blood of Paradise is that rare beast: a work of popular fiction that is both serious and thrilling.”
–John Connolly, New York Times bestselling author of Every Dead Thing
“David Corbett is a supremely gifted writer and Blood of Paradise reminds me of a Robert Stone novel. Its lyrical prose and exotic setting filled with damaged souls grasping for redemption any way they can combine in a tour de force that will haunt you long after you reach the end.”
–Denise Hamilton, nationally bestselling author of Prisoner of Memory
“If you’re looking for the best in contemporary crime fiction, this is it.”
–The Washington Post, on Done for a Dime
THE MORTALIS DOSSIER- BONUS FEATURE FROM DAVID CORBETT
FROM TROY TO BAGHDAD (VIA EL SALVADOR)
The Story's Genesis
I conceived Blood of Paradise after reading Philoctetes, a spare and relatively obscure drama by Sophocles. In the original, an oracle advises the Greeks that victory over the Trojans is impossible without the bow of Herakles. Unfortunately, it’s in the hands of Philoctetes,
whom the Greeks abandoned on a barren island ten years earlier,
when he was bitten by a venomous snake while the Achaean fleet harbored briefly on its way to Troy.
Odysseus, architect of the desertion scheme, must now return,
reclaim the bow, and bring both the weapon and its owner to Troy.
For a companion, he chooses Neoptolemus, the son of his slain archrival, Achilles.
Neoptolemus, being young, still holds fast to the heroic virtues embodied by his dead father, and believes they can appeal to
Philoctetes as a warrior. But Odysseus–knowing Philoctetes will want revenge against all the Greeks, himself in particular–
convinces Neoptolemus that trickery and deceit will serve their purposes far better. In essence, he corrupts Neoptolemus, who subsequently deceives Philoctetes into relinquishing his bitterness to reenlist in the cause against Troy.
The tale has an intriguing postscript: It turns out to be the corrupted
Neoptolemus who, by killing King Priam at his altar during the sack of Troy, brings down a curse upon the Greeks even as they are perfecting their victory.
This story suggested several themes, which I then molded to my own purposes: the role of corruption in our concept of expedience,
the need of young men to prove themselves worthy in the eyes of even morally suspect elders (or especially them), and the curse of a hard-won ambition.
Why El Salvador?
I saw in the Greek situation a presentiment of America’s dilemma at the close of the Cold War: finally achieving unrivaled leadership of the globe, but at the same time being cursed with the hatred of millions.
Though we have showered the world with aid, too often we have done so through conspicuously corrupt, repressive, even murderous regimes, where the elites in charge predictably siphoned off much of that aid into their own pockets. Why did we look the other way during the violence and thievery? The regimes in question were reliably anticommunist, crucial to our need for cheap oil, or otherwise amenable to American strategic or commercial interests.
We live in a dangerous world, we are told. Hard, often unpleasant choices have to be made.
It’s a difficult argument for those who have suffered under such regimes to swallow. They would consider it madness to suggest that it is envy of our preeminence, or contempt for our freedom, that causes them to view America so resentfully. Rather, they would try to get us to remember that while their hopes for self-determination, freedom,
and prosperity were being crushed, America looked on with a strangely principled indifference, often accompanied by a fiercely patriotic self-congratulation, not to mention blatant hypocrisy.
Not only have we failed to admit this to ourselves, but the New
Right has embraced a resurgent American exceptionalism as the antidote to such moral visitations, which such conservatives consider weak and defeatist. Instead, they see a revanchist America marching boldly into the new century with unapologetic military power, uninhibited free-market capitalism, and evangelical fervor–most immediately to bring freedom to the Middle East.
The New Right’s historical template for this proposed transformation is Central America–specifically El Salvador, trumpeted as
“the final battleground of the Cold War,” and championed as one of our greatest foreign policy successes: the crucible in which American greatness was re-forged, banishing the ghosts of Vietnam forever.
There’s a serious problem with the New Right’s formulation,
however: It requires an almost hallucinatory misreading of history.
Misremembering the Past
In their ongoing public campaign to justify the Iraq war, many supporters and members of the Bush Administration–including both Vice President Dick Cheney and former defense secretary Donald
Rumsfeld–have singled out El Salvador as a shining example of where the “forward-leaning” policy they champion has succeeded.
Mr. Cheney did so during the vice presidential debates, contending that Iraq could expect the same bright future enjoyed by El Salvador,
which, he claimed, is “a whale of a lot better because we held free elections.”
What Mr. Cheney neglected to mention:
• At the time the elections were held (1982), death squads linked to the Salvadoran security forces were murdering on average three to five hundred civilians a month.
• The death squads targeted not just guerrilla supporters but priests, social workers, teachers, journalists, even members of the centrist Christian Democrats–the party that Congress forced the Reagan Administration to back,
since it was the only party capable of solidifying the
• The CIA funneled money to the Christian Democrats to ensure they gained control of the constituent assembly.
• Roberto D’Aubuisson, a known death squad leader,
opposed the Christian Democrats as “Communists,” and launched his own bid to lead the constituent assembly,
forming ARENA as the political wing of his death squad network. His bid was funded and supported by exiled oligarchs and reactionary military leaders, and managed by a prominent American public relations firm.
• “Anti-fraud measures” proved intimidating. For example:
ballots were cast in glass jars. Many voters, who had to provide identification, and who suspected the government was monitoring their choices, feared violent reprisal if they were observed voting “improperly.”
• ARENA won thirty-six of sixty seats in the assembly, and
D’Aubuisson was elected its leader.
• This was perceived by all concerned as a disastrous failure for American policy. When D’Aubuisson tried to appoint one of his colleagues as assembly president,
U.S. officials went to the military and threatened to cut off aid. D’Aubuisson relented, but it was the only concession he made to American demands.
In short, there was American influence, money, and manipulation throughout the process, putting the lie to the whole notion the elections were “free”–though Mr. Cheney was arguably correct when he stated that “we” held them. Unfortunately, all that effort came to naught, as what America wanted from the elections lay in shambles. Even when, in the following year’s election, a great deal more money and arm-twisting resulted in Washington’s candidate being elected president, he remained powerless to reform the military,
curtail the death squads, or revive the economy, measures
Washington knew to be crucial to its counter-insurgency strategy.
By 1987, the Reaganites decided to abandon the decimated Christian
Democrats for ARENA–the party it had spent five years and millions of dollars trying to keep from power.
As for Mr. Rumsfeld’s remarks, he made them in the course of a brief stopover in El Salvador to thank the government for its support in the Iraq war. The defense secretary trumpeted the just nature of the cause in Iraq, noting that the Middle Eastern country had once been ruled by “a dictatorship that killed tens of thousands of human beings . . . A regime that cut off the heads and hands of people. A
regime that threw people off the tops of six-story buildings with their hands and legs tied.”
The irony of these remarks, which bordered on the macabre, was not lost on the locals: The Salvadoran military–which we funded,
trained, and expanded tenfold–achieved a similar body count, employing similar if not identical methods in its bloody suppression of the internal opposition. The Salvadoran air force, for example, typically threw its bound captives not off rooftops but out of helicopters and airplanes (the so-called “night free-fall training”), and the practice of cutting off the head and hands of death squad victims was so common it earned the sobriquet “a haircut and a manicure.”
These mischaracterizations, however, are merely part of a much larger deceit. In truth, America’s claim to victory in El Salvador is delusional. As late as 1988, military and policy analysts of every political stripe were admitting that despite huge infusions of American cash, the government was in a stalemate with the Marxist guerrillas.
Although six strike brigades were arguably up to the task of actually engaging the guerrillas, Salvadoran field tactics were often derided by Green Beret advisors as “search and avoid,” and the government’s propensity to slaughter its critics desisted only when it felt unthreatened.
Then, in 1989, the Soviet Union collapsed, and the Salvadoran oligarchy’s main bargaining chip with Washington, its staunch opposition to a Communist takeover, became moot–but not before the guerrillas staged one final offensive, in response to which the military reverted to form, strafing and bombing whole neighborhoods,
reviving the death squads, and murdering six Jesuit priests,
their housekeeper, and her fifteen-year-old daughter.
International outrage over the murdered Jesuits finally brought matters to a head. The time had come to consider a truce, which the
UN, not the Americans, stepped in to broker. In 1992, the final Peace
Accords were signed.
Thus, after over a billion dollars in military aid and three billion in non-lethal aid (most of it spent rebuilding infrastructure destroyed by the fighting) plus more than seventy thousand Salvadorans killed, over forty thousand of them civilians (and more than
90 percent of them murdered by their own government), the U.S.
obtained a result it could have achieved over ten years earlier, in
1981, when the guerrillas first proposed a negotiated settlement–a prospect that the Reagan hard-liners, many of whom now serve in the Bush Administration, flatly and repeatedly rejected. Only victory would do for them, a victory that proved utterly elusive until the distortions of political memory took over.
Mischaracterizing the Present
But even if the Reaganites didn’t “win” El Salvador, isn’t it true the situation there has improved dramatically? With peace and stability,
internationally monitored free elections, and a demilitarized judicial apparatus, cannot El Salvador be credibly described as “a whale of a lot better” now?
Consider the following:
• Impunity from the country’s civil and criminal laws continues, particularly for the politically, economically,
or institutionally well-connected.
• The concentration of economic power remains in the hands of a few. In fact, in the 1990s wealth became even more concentrated as a result of neoliberal reforms introduced by ARENA.
• Land transfer provisions dictated by the Peace Accords have suffered endless delays.
• Child labor remains endemic.
• El Salvador is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children trafficked for sexual exploitation.
• Civil society is under siege due to the availability of weapons left behind by the war, the formation of shadowy crime syndicates by ex-military officers now turned businessmen, and the presence of transnational youth gangs founded by Salvadoran immigrants in the U.S.
• Death squads have returned, to conduct “social cleansing.”
• The highest levels of the the Policía Nacional Civil (PNC)
are controlled by former military men with dubious pasts.
Corruption is widespread, and there are many ties between the police and organized crime. An attorney with the Human Rights Ombudsman stated: “When we go to the [police] Directorate for Investigating Organized
Crime, we never go alone. There always has to be at least two of us, because they might do something to harm us.”
The old political system was based on corruption, privilege,
and brutality, and such things do not just evaporate, even in the welcome light of peace and free elections. As we know from worldwide example–Serbia, Ulster, Palestine, Thailand, Somalia,
Afghanistan, and, yes, El Salvador and Iraq–today’s paramilitary force is tomorrow’s Mafia. And so-called free elections can often mask extreme imbalances of power, which voters feel helpless to change.
Meanwhile, almost a third of the population of El Salvador has emigrated to other countries, primarily the United States. The migration wave continues today, estimated by some observers at seven hundred persons per day. These expatriates now send back to their less fortunate family members remittances (remesas) of nearly three billion dollars per year. If the country were reliably secure and prosperous,
with wealth distributed reasonably among its people, it would no longer need this foreign cash machine. But the most significant form of voting in El Salvador is done with one’s feet: If one can leave, one does.
Those who have stayed behind have become increasingly frustrated.
The unwavering grip that ARENA has on power–with conspicuous assistance from Washington–reminds many of the oligarchy’s brutal control prior to the civil war. Organized protests have turned increasingly violent, and many fear the country is once again coming apart at the seams.
On July 5, 2006, student protests against bus fare increases resulted in gunfire, with two police officers killed and ten wounded.
President Tony Saca blamed the FMLN before any credible evidence was available (and subsequently retreated from this position).
The FMLN responded by condemning the violence. As it turned out, a gunman caught on tape was identified as an expelled party member, now belonging to a splinter group calling itself the Limon
Beatrice Alamanni de Carillo, the Human Rights Ombudsman,
remarked, “We have to admit that a new revolutionary fringe is forming. It’s an open secret.”
Gregorio Rosa Chávez, the auxiliary bishop of San Salvador,
stated, “We signed the treaty but we never lived the peace. Reconciliation is not just based on healing wounds, but healing them well. . . . People are losing faith in the institutions.”
The “Salvador Option”
If we described honestly the real state of affairs in El Salvador,
would ordinary Iraqis truly wish that for their future? Would
Americans consider the cost in human life, not to mention billions of dollars per day, worthwhile? Forget all the blunders along the way (or the more jaundiced view that democracy was never the issue)–is this truly a sane model for a stable state?
It’s too late to pose the question, of course. The New Right’s distorted understanding of the past and present in El Salvador has created an almost eerie simulacrum in Iraq, with even ghastlier results.
Taking one particularly ominous example: In the summer of 2004,
as American efforts to stem the Iraqi insurgency foundered, U.S.
officials decided to employ what came to be known as “the Salvador
Option.” American advisers oversaw the establishment of commando units composed of former Baathists. The commandos began to exert themselves in the field, enjoying successes the Americans envied, but also employing methods American troops shunned, especially in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib scandal. The American advisers overseeing the commandos–who had extensive backgrounds in Latin America and specifically El Salvador–adamantly stated they in no way gave a green light to death squads, torture, or other human rights violations; they may well have been sincere. But matters spiraled murderously out of control when Shiites dominated the elections of January 2005 and took over for the Interim
Government: Shiite death squads, linked to the Badr militia but acting under the aegis of the Ministry of Interior, soon began systematically hunting and killing Sunni men, creating a sectarian bloodbath that continues to tear the country apart. American calls for transparent investigations of the murders have netted little in the way of results.
Regardless of what the future holds for Iraq, these commandos,
along with the paramilitary units and the other sectarian militias operating in Iraq, will not melt away into nothingness. Many of their members are tomorrow’s gangsters (whose rackets will predictably fund terrorist organizations).
Meanwhile, the escalating bloodshed has caused, among countless other troubles, the dislocation of millions of refugees, and the flight from the country of large portions of Iraq’s professional class,
who like ordinary Salvadorans realize the future lies elsewhere.
Given all this, it’s difficult not to revisit the notion of a curse. In achieving sole superpower status, we have relied on false notions of ourselves and others, excused atrocity under the guise of expedience,
sought our own national interest over all other considerations (with at times a cavalier appreciation of whether short-term successes might in fact poison long-term ones)–all the while proclaiming,
not without some merit, all the best intentions in the world. To think this wouldn’t come back to haunt us is to believe in notions of power and innocence too fatuous for an adult mind to entertain.
One last example should make the case conclusive. Consider our support for the Contras, a makeshift band of mercenaries assembled for the sole purpose of causing as much havoc as possible for the
Sandinista government in Nicaragua, whom we accused of supporting the Salvadoran guerrillas. While President Reagan steadfastly proclaimed the Contras to be the “moral equivalent of our Founding
Fathers,” an adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff called them “just a bunch of killers.” By 1985, the Contras had murdered at least four thousand civilians, wounded an equal number, and kidnapped perhaps five thousand more. Even the CIA admitted the Contras steadfastly refused to engage the Sandinista military and instead preferred to execute civic officials, heads of cooperatives, nurses, judges, and doctors, while showing a stubborn propensity for abducting and raping teenage girls. The strategy: not to seize power or even prevail militarily, but simply to terrorize average Nicaraguans, and demonstrate that their government could not protect them or provide even basic services.
And who has steadfastly imitated this strategy?
The jihadists and insurgents in Iraq.
Like the victims of, yes, a curse, we find ourselves trapped in the exact same position in which we put our previous enemies. Not even
Sophocles could have devised it more neatly.
The Murder of Gilberto Soto
The historically suspect pronouncements of Messrs. Cheney and
Rumsfeld and their camp followers were not the only topical incidents of relevance to occur during the writing of this book. Another,
far more chilling event also took place, an event that not only underscored the deterioration of civil society in El Salvador, but eerily echoed elements of the novel’s plot: the murder of an American–a
Teamster named Gilberto Soto.
He was visiting family in El Salvador–and also hoped to meet with port drivers to discuss possible plans to unionize–when gunmen shot him dead outside his mother’s house in Usulután. Many of the trucking companies that would have been affected by unionization are run by ex-military officers, but the police investigation never pursued this. Instead, two gang members were pressed and possibly tortured into confessing that the victim’s mother-inlaw,
who had less than a hundred dollars to her name, hired them to kill Soto out of some vague, illogical family rancor.
Two of the three defendants, Soto’s mother-in-law and the alleged triggerman, were acquitted in February 2006. The man alleged to have supplied the murder weapon was convicted, despite the fact the Human Rights Ombudsman, in her scathing critique of the investigation–an investigation which was not conducted by the local prosecutor, but the PNC’s notoriously corrupt Directorate for
Investigating Organized Crime–specifically noted that no chain of evidence existed concerning the gun and bullets.
This murder took place during the American debate over ratification of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA),
and only by considerable arm-twisting was the Bush administration able to secure the necessary votes for passage. (CAFTA passed the
House by a mere two votes.) How can there be free trade, opponents argued, if men and women seeking a just wage can be murdered with impunity? But such arguments did not prevail.
A Final Note on Blood of Paradise
All of which leads to a brief summarizing glance at two of my characters,
Jude and Clara.
Like Neoptolemus, Jude allows himself to be seduced by a morally questionable elder into a reckless scheme. In a sense, he stands for all of us: an everyman who wants to do good in a world he knows needs plenty of it, but who also suspects that to accomplish that end a few nefarious deeds must be indulged. He wants to believe as well that one can withstand such evil, rise above it, even as one does its bidding: Good intentions, sound character, and professional skill will prevail over necessary compromises with immorality. Who knows, it might even be fun–kick ass, take names, shake hands with the devil but don’t let him hold your wallet. We’re Americans after all, blessed by God and history. How can we not prevail?
Clara–Salvadoran war orphan, rape victim–sees the matter differently. She ultimately understands that only through real sacrifice can the future possibly redeem the past. Being deeply religious,
like many Salvadorans, she sees this call for renunciation as the challenge of the crucifixion. And so, in the end, she finds the heart to act upon her conviction–not in an empowering act of violence, but in a selfless, agonizing act of love.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Whatever Became of the Laugh Masters?
It's only those who do nothing that make no mistakes, I suppose.
-Joseph Conrad, An Outcast of the Islands
Cocooned in a hammock at Playa El Zonte, Jude launched the siesta hour with a lusty tug from his beer, swaying beneath the thatched roof of a glorieta. Above, the sun was blistering; even the skirring wind off the ocean felt parched and hot. Below, the beach of black volcanic sand with its scatterings of smooth dark stone curled out to the point. He wondered what it would take to know-not suspect or hope or pretend but know-that the woman he spotted, out there on the rocks, was or wasn't the love of his life.
He knew her: Eileen Browning, fellow American. They'd bumped into each other here and there the past month at Santa María Mizata, Playa El Sunzal, most recently on the pier at La Libertad, browsing the fishmonger stalls. There, with the briny tang of ice-tubbed shrimp, mackerel, and boca colorada brewing all around them in the rippling heat, he'd almost convinced himself that Dr. Browning, as she hated to be called, had been coming on to him.
At this particular moment she walked the beach alone, sandals in hand, wearing a polka-dot halter and cutoffs and a wide-brimmed hat, eyes toward the water as she watched a stray dog take a crap in the shallows.
Mark that in your tourist guide, Jude thought, memorizing the spot where the dog crouched and guessing at the current so as to avoid an unpleasant step later. Meanwhile Eileen turned back and resumed her lazy march toward the glorieta, holding her hat atop her head against the scorching wind.
From their previous encounters, Jude had learned she was a marine's daughter turned scholar, down here for postdoctoral work in cultural anthropology. She was cataloging folk crafts-pottery, weaving, embroidery-before they disappeared forever. He liked that about her, the devotion to vanishing things. He liked a lot of things about her, actually. She'd grown up around strong men-raised by wolves, she put it-and was pretty in a smart-girl way, lanky and leggy with strawberry blond hair and gold-rimmed glasses. There were those, he supposed, who might find fault with her large teeth and big boyish hands, her long skinny feet, but he was at that stage when these things seemed the true test of her loveliness-the endearing flaws that made her unique. Her perfection.
As she came closer it became clear she intended to stop and visit, and his heart kicked a little. He roused himself from his torpor, thinking: Comport yourself, soldier.
It was the heart of the dry season, the beginning of Lent. The surf camp was otherwise empty of foreigners, just the two of them. The restaurant and bar remained open, though, for day-trippers like Jude, drop-ins like Eileen.
Entering the thatch shade of the glorieta, she dropped her sandals, removed her hat, and shook out her hair. Her halter was knotted at the neck, revealing bikini tan lines striping over her shoulders to her back. Jude pictured the triangles of white skin around her nipples, then nudged the thought away, not wanting to be unchivalrous.
"We meet again." She perched herself on the nearest table, took out a kerchief and mopped her face and neck, then dusted sand off her shins. "If I didn't know better, I'd think you were following me."
Her voice was a raspy alto, one more thing to like. Jude said, "If I was following you, I'd be behind you."
She cocked an eyebrow. "Point taken." Nodding at his beer, she said, "Mind if I . . . ?"
"No. No." He handed it to her and she knocked back a swig. He tried to picture her on campus, earthy babe of the brainy set. The bohemian broad.
"I'm going to want one of these." She handed back his beer and glanced over her shoulder. "Have you eaten yet?"
Behind her, two indígena women worked the kitchen attached to the bar. It was a rustic business: wood roasting pit, propane grill, a sand floor with a hen and several chicks dithering underfoot-plus the briny dog from the shallows earlier, watching as her two pups tumbled together, chasing each other around. The fried corn fragrance of pupusas wafted toward them, mingling with the smoky aroma of a roasting chicken.
"Just." Jude patted his midriff.
"Oh well." She made a lonesome-me face. "I saw the truck when I drove up-it's yours, right?-but there was nobody around. When did you get here?"
"Dawn." The best surfing came at daybreak and late afternoon, when the doldrums smoothed the chop from the ocean, the waves glassy. He'd stayed out longer than usual this morning, though, enjoying the solitude. Gypsies would show up the next few weeks, jamming the lineups. Come the rains, the ocean swelled. So did the crowds. "I was out beyond the break."
"I got here sometime around ten, I think, and-Oh." She took her glasses off. "Excuse me." She started working a speck of sand from her eye, blinking. It took only a second, but in the moment after, sitting there with her glasses in her hand, her face transformed. Unwary eyes. A helpless smile.
Jude marveled at that sometimes-the way a woman changed when all she'd done was remove a scarf, an earring. Her glasses. Maybe it was his little fetish, but he doubted that. He suspected the French even had a word for it.
"Anyhoo," the glasses went back on, "I got here hungry, then just decided to take a long walk down the beach before lunch."
Looking for me, Jude suspected. Hoped. Pretended.
"Now I'm famished." Instead of heading off to order food, though, she picked up her hat and started fanning herself with it. Wisecracking eyes, a rag-doll smile. "I didn't figure you for the type, by the way." She nodded at his board. "Given the work you do."
Suddenly, the air between them felt charged. "Figure me for what type?"
"You know." She affected dope-eyed hipdom and a blasted voice. "Jude McDude."
"Oh. Right. Me all over."
She nudged him with her foot. "I'm teasing." A new smile, half-impish, half-contrite. "My dad surfs. Big-time. So I'll grant you there isn't a type. And if an old leatherneck like Pop can hang with the waterheads, I don't see why a bodyguard can't."
He cringed. Bodyguard. It called to mind steroids for breakfast and cream corn for brains, all stuffed in a bad suit. But he guessed that if he reminded her the term of art was "executive protection specialist"-EP for short-it would hardly redeem her opinion of what he did. Or of him.
His cell phone trilled inside his ruck.
"I'll let you grab that," she said, getting up.
"No, it's okay." He reached down, pulled the phone out, and read the number on the digital display. He didn't recognize it. And he'd just begun his furlough, ten days off after twenty on, his usual work schedule. He was on his own time and didn't want intrusions. Especially now. "I can let it go."
"It's okay. I'll just grab some lunch and a cold one." She shot him another mischievous smile. "Let you deal with the captains of industry."
It's a wrong number, he wanted to say, but she was already ambling off. Jude stared at her back, exposed by her halter and crisscrossed with its misfit tan lines, and doubted he'd ever hated his cell phone more-at which point the ringer chirped again, the same numerals reappeared. He picked up simply to cut short the bother: "¿Quién es?"
It took a second for the voice on the other end to emerge from the static. "Hello? Yeah. Hello, Jude? . . . My name's Bill. I was a friend of your dad's."
Ten years collapsed at the sound of the voice. And yet, in a way, Jude had been expecting this call. There were rumors.
The voice said: "Bill Malvasio. Not sure you remember me."
"Of course I remember."
"Kinda outta the blue, I realize."
"No. I mean, yeah, but it's not that. I was just . . ." His voice trailed away. The static of the phone connection swelled then ebbed, a sound like sandpaper against skin. "I was just talking to somebody else. The shift, from that to this. To you, I mean. I dunno. Just sudden."
Jude had spent a good part of his boyhood watching his dad and Bill Malvasio head off together-cop weddings, cop funerals, drinking parties, poker marathons, or just another shift in the Eighteenth District. To call them best friends missed the thing by half. Malvasio was like family, but not the kind the women wanted around-more like a black sheep uncle, the fun uncle, the one with the wily mean streak. Jude hated admitting it, but he'd competed most of his life against Wild Bill, vying for his father's respect. And despised not Malvasio but himself for that.
"Listen, Jude. I realize this is a little late but, about your dad's passing, I'm sorry. Ray was still young."
Jude wrestled with a number of things to say, none of them particularly astute. His dad had drowned on Rend Lake-accident or suicide, no one knew for sure. A bad end to a lot of bad business.
"Proud man, your father. None of us were what they made us out to be. Certainly not Ray. I've got some stories in that regard, if you'd like to hear them."
Jude sat up in the hammock finally. Planting his feet in the rocky sand, he checked the incoming number again. Sure enough, Malvasio was in-country. "Run that by me again."
"We could get together. I mean, if you're up for it."
"When do you mean?"
"Now, you want."
Jude felt stunned by the offer, but refusing was out of the question. Hear a few stories about my dad? Sure. Add a few more collectibles to the museum of bullshit. But it wasn't just that. There were about a thousand questions he wanted to ask, starting with: "If you don't mind my asking, how'd you get my cell number?"
"I've got friends down here," Malvasio said. "If I didn't, I couldn't survive."
Jude was still sitting there, holding his phone, when Eileen walked back, a plate of chicken with pupusas and curtido de repollo in one hand, two cold beers in the other.
"Get whatever it was sorted out?" She sat down in the same spot as before, handing him one of the beers. Wiggling her hips to settle in, she set her plate in her lap and picked up a chicken thigh.
"I have to go," he told her.
Almost imperceptibly, her face fell. Then, recovering: "Anything wrong?"
"No, no. Just . . . an old family friend." Not knowing what to do with the beer, he just sat there, holding it like he was trying to figure it out. "He's over on the Costa del Sol. Wants to get together." It seemed unwise to say more.
"He's down here on vacation?"
She bit into the greasy crackling skin of the chicken. He caught himself staring at her mouth.
"Not exactly," he said.
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In El Salvador, American Jude McManus works as an executive protection specialist, currently keeping safe the captains of industry at a local bottling plant. Jude is approached by former Chicago Police Officer Bill Malvasio. Bill was a partner of Jude¿s late father at the CPD before they and a third cop Phil Strock were caught stealing from a drug dealer. Whereas dad drowned in Rend Lake after his disgrace, Wild Bill fled to El Salvatore.---------------------- The surviving two ¿Laugh masters¿ as the trio called themselves back then, Bill and Phil want to hire Jude. He agrees to come home and accept the job offer. However, not only has his dad¿s legacy come back to haunt Jude, but he finds himself caught in the middle of international corruption at the highest levels of business and governments.---------------- BLOOD OF PARADISE is a fascinating thriller that never truly decides between being a political exposé or an action-packed suspense. David Corbett makes a strong case that the Bush democratization of Iraq has a precedent not in Nam but in El Salvatore, which the American supported side won the 1980s civil war but two decades later is a model of democracy at its worst with abject poverty flourishing, corruption the normal way to run government and do business, and violent crime at stratospheric levels. Those who believe the Bush experiment affirms the Reagan experiment that you cannot transport democracy from without will enjoy this interesting tale those who prefer an action-packed thriller regardless of political preference will want to pass.-------------- Harriet Klausner
A really good, solid, enthralling book. Graham Greene-esque. I heard David Corbett speak at a California Writers' Club (Redwood Chapter) meeting and bought this book. I will seek out and read his other stuff as well. Great job, I'm looking forward to more David Corbett.
Inspired by the eloquent, yet deeply disturbing Greek tragedies of long ago, Blood of Paradise, is a dark novel, penned by one of today¿s most passionate writers. David Corbett¿s third novel, shines an unflinching and unapologetic light into the backrooms and back-alleys, corporate boardrooms and finally, the lofty and corrupt offices of the politicians sworn to serve and protect. Whether defined or haunted by, his late father¿s choices, Jude McManus left Chicago and joined the Army. He now provides protection services for high profile executives in El Salvador. Assigned to guard Axel Odelberg, an American hydrologist, hired to evaluate the effects a proposed bottling plant expansion may have on local water supplies. The powers that be expect a ¿rubber stamp report¿, and will go to any lengths to ensure both favorable findings and total silence. A brilliant liar and master manipulator, Bill Malvasio knew Jude McManus was an easy target. Exploiting his father¿s memory and using their friendship as a base, Malvasio spun a story filled with half truths. He explained to Jude that an old warrant prevented him from returning to the US. He asked Jude to escort the ex-cop, Phil Strock (the third member of his father¿s disgraced trio) back to El Salvador. While not entirely certain of Malvasio¿s intentions, Jude agrees. However, he soon realizes all is not what it seems, as he finds himself in the eye of life-threatening storm fueled by greed and maintained through violence. The true extent of the danger slowly becomes apparent as the Salvadoran mob flexes its¿ muscle, ordering the murder of a female villager that complained her well was destroyed by the water project. Soon thereafter, an infant is kidnapped to guarantee her mother¿s silence. The characters are flawed, three dimensional and absolutely believable. Throughout the novel recognizing good and evil becomes more difficult, as the reader begins to question their own moral assumptions and attitudes. The plot and subplots work well together and often propel each other forward. Intricately layered and complicated, Corbett revs up the suspense and the stakes as the novel hurtles toward the conclusion. With a practiced eye for detail, Corbett¿s thoughts on the modern predicament are as insightful as they are chilling. Acknowledging the complexity of the politics and the difficult decisions being made by politicians, lends a realism to the novel, making it almost impossible to discern the line between fact and fiction. He weaves a myriad of seemingly disparate situations in the world - gang activity, terrorism, US foreign policy, corruption, murder, - into a seamless story that ties everything together. Exceptionally well written, with haunting depictions that capture both the beauty and the despair of a land and its people, which no longer seem so foreign or distant. Powerful, shocking and thought provoking, Blood of Paradise is a challenging read that I would recommend to all who enjoy serious thrillers. For interested readers, Corbett included a dossier at the end of the book, describing the political atmosphere of El Salvador. Happy Reading! RJ McGill 3Rs-Real Reader Reviews Personal Note: A dense and complex read, I often found myself returning to previous chapters to clarify the various aspects linking the characters. (A character list was an absolute necessity.) Also, I was frustrated by the use of undefined and obscure Spanish words that could not be interpreted by the surrounding text. Dark and disturbing, David Corbett¿s passion is both refreshing and moving, so much so, I immediately checked out his 2003 release, ¿Done for a Dime¿ from my local library.