by Stephen Holgate
Blank Slate Press

"Things are connected in ways you don’t understand. Don’t look too far below the surface."

Miles away from his own country that he no longer feels any attachment to, Robert Knott leads a reckless and mediocre life as an American diplomat in Madagascar. As his waning career, alcoholic past, uneasy relationship with his daughter, and the futility of everyday life begin to eat away at his untamable spirit, he sinks to new lows, gambling his way deep into debt at the Zebu Room. But when his next assignments require him to free Walt Sackett, an American, out of a Malagasy prison and investigate growing unrest in Tamatave, Robert must utilize various strategies as he navigates toward redemption through a dangerous path replete with powerful enemies, corruption, dark secrets, and ruinous threats.

Holgate delivers an intense and riveting thriller which dives deep into the beautiful, mysterious, and sinister soul of Madagascar. Using Robert’s experiences and perspective, Holgate throws light on the Madagascar-United States relations and reveals the inner workings of the American Embassy, the Malagasy government, police, and press. As Robert tries to aid Sackett and extricate himself from his own debt crisis, he forms some real emotional connections along the way. Meanwhile, unrest spreads further, and various incidents unveil a gap: the Malagasy regard foreigners as vazaha, “powerful,” “foolish” people who blame them, tell them what to do, and how to be, while Robert—representing the USA—resists Madagascar, understanding it in some ways but not appreciating it. This gap is somewhat bridged when Speedy, a Malagasy thief, helps Robert, and Robert finally embraces Madagascar for what it is and, in doing so, accepts himself. Holgate’s elegant writing, combined with unpredictable turns, realistic characters, growing suspense, and chase sequences, adds depth and charm to the story. The result is a classy, engrossing literary novel that superbly portrays the hard realities of diplomatic life and captures the essence of belonging.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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