In the first decade of the twentieth century, the U.S. was involved in one of the greatest engineering projects ever, the construction of the Panama Canal. In the midst of building, the new nation of Panama was undergoing political and social change, as they adjusted to their independence from Columbia and the strategic importance of the canal being dug through their land. Sigmund Brouwer sets his novel Saffire in Panama during this time, bringing together the political and social movements while giving a sense of the grandness of the canal project itself.
Saffire centers around James Holt, a rancher from the Dakotahs who is beckoned to Panama to help with an investigation. An old, trusted friend of President Teddy Roosevelt, Holt makes the trip as a favor, but with no intent to stick around. Each day that passes draws him in, and two young ladies influence him to stay: one street urchin named Saffire, and one beautiful woman who stirs his soul like it hasn't been stirred in years.
Holt is no professional investigator, just a cowboy with common sense, a curious nature, and a keen, observant eye. It doesn't take him long to draw the wrong kind of attention; on more than one occasion, his Panamanian friends bail him out. Brouwer has Holt interact with several actual historical characters, adding to the fun and believability of the story. He certainly moves around some dates and facts for dramatic purpose, and Saffire is not based on a true story, but Brouwer nicely captures the historical and geographical setting.
Saffire is written by a man, and centers on a strong male lead character, but has the feel of a romance novel written for a female audience. I don't know if that's totally fair, but despite the political intrigue, Holt's investigative prowess, and a few scenes of peril, it still has a sort of feminine feel. I don't say this as a criticism, just an observation.
I enjoyed the historical setting and Brouwer's attention to the period. Credit him for sparking my interest in Panama and the history of the incredible canal. I also enjoyed the way Brouwer stretched out the story, practicing the slow reveal, and offering details that I thought were extraneous but turned out to have significance. Altogether, Saffire was enjoyable to read.
Thanks to Blogging for Books and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!