cover image The Mastermind

The Mastermind

David Unger. Akashic, $15.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-617-75442-5

The corruption and hopelessness of modern Guatemalan politics interfere in the life of a womanizing lawyer in this engaging novel. Guillermo Rosensweig is a prominent attorney in Guatemala City with a client who believes he has discovered money laundering at the semi-governmental bank. As Guillermo works with government agent Ibrahim Khalil, he becomes lovers with Ibrahim's daughter, Maryam Mounier. When Ibrahim is murdered, authorities%E2%80%94and Guillermo%E2%80%94assume the second victim in the car was Maryam. In the aftermath, Guillermo's grief leads him to Miguel Paredes, a man bent on taking down the president using the financial misconduct that Ibrahim and Guillermo uncovered. With nothing left to live for, Guillermo decides to die for the cause of exposing Guatemala's corruption and agrees to Paredes's elaborate plan to make his suicide look like a murder. While weaving political commentary throughout the novel, Unger (The Price of Escape) devotes much of the first half to Guillermo's sex and love life. The engrossing romance between Guillermo and Maryam makes the alcohol-soaked grief, plan to die, and gradual recovery in the second half feel plodding and slow by comparison. Perhaps this is meant to reflect how adrift Guillermo feels without Maryam by his side, but removing the most compelling character impedes the story's initial momentum. Nonetheless, through the lens of Guillermo's doomed relationship, Unger successfully evokes the tragedy and futility of life in Guatemala in a raw and unforgettable novel. (Apr.)