Many people dismiss mysteries as escapist. Perhaps the most famous of these was Edmund Wilson, who lambasted the genre in his essay “Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?” The mystery, in Wilson’s opinion, diverted readers with fantasies based on upper-class assumptions about how society works.
Wilson would have changed his mind had he lived to read Julian Rathbone’s new book. Rathbone has written an up-to-the-minute story of Latin America, replete with social and political commentary. In it, a large and nefarious corporation, Greenfinger, Inc., controls the Costa Rican economy through its monopoly of coffee production. A botanist named Kit Carter threatens the company’s position, not by design, but as the unintended result of a scientific discovery.
Carter, who works on a collective sponsored by the United Nations Agricultural and Food Organization, discovers a new coffee hybrid, Zb+. If the hybrid were produced in large quantities, as it easily could be, Greenfinger could face an irreparable decline.
Confronted with this threat, the company does not hesitate. It embarks on a campaign of murder against anyone who knows of the hybrid. Carter himself is kidnapped. The company, however, has reckoned without Carter’s wife Esther, whose love for her husband gives her the strength to track him through the jungles of Costa Rica and to pursue his tormentors. Much of the story is recounted in her distinctive voice. She is, to raise yet another social issue, “black and beautiful.”
Though Edmund Wilson would find that the story answers his complaint, some readers may find that the author has gone to the other extreme.; his frequent reiteration of his political opinions is at times distracting. Nevertheless, he has produced an adventure story that is well written and suspenseful.