David Corbett Blood of Paradise

ISBN 13: 9780812977332

Blood of Paradise

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9780812977332: Blood of Paradise
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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.”
–Michael Connelly

“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 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
Salvadoran middle.
· 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 ...

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About the Author:

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Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

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 we...

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