Book review: Saffire: A Novel

“Saffire: A Novel,” by Sigmund Brouwer

Publication: Waterbrook; August 16, 2016

saffireSynopsis: For President Teddy Roosevelt, controlling the east-west passage between two oceans mattered so much that he orchestrated a revolution to control it. His command was to ‘let the dirt fly’ and for years, the American Zone of the Panama Canal mesmerized the world, working in uneasy co-existence with the Panamanian aristocrats. 

It’s in this buffered Zone where, in 1909, James Holt begins to protect a defenseless girl named Saffire, expecting a short and simple search for her mother. Instead, it draws him away from safety, into a land haunted by a history of pirates, gold runners, and plantation owners, all leaving behind ghosts of their interwoven desires sins and ambitions, ghosts that create the web of deceit and intrigue of a new generation of revolutionary politics.  It will also bring him together with a woman who will change his course—or bring an end to it.
A love story set within a historical mystery, Saffire brings to life the most impressive and embattled engineering achievement of the twentieth-century.

Review: In 1909, James Holt is sent to the American Zone of the Panama Canal during its construction, at the request of President Teddy Roosevelt. Holt has served under and fought with Roosevelt as one of his Rough Riders but does not know what this trip entails. Holt, a widower, resents having to leave his seven-year-old daughter at home on the ranch with her uncle, however, the payment promised is enough to save his ranch from foreclosure. He arrives to meet with Colonel George Washington Goethals, in charge of overseeing the construction of the canal, but while he is waiting he meets a young mulatto girl named Saffire. Saffire takes in interest in the book Holt is reading, they strike up a conversation and Holt learns that the young girl’s mother is missing and the police and government will not help her find her. Once Holt meets with Goethals, he learns that he is looking into a large sum of American money missing, as well as, investigating the disappearance of Saffire’s mother. Apparently, she left a note that she was going to America with a man, but Saffire is sure that her mother would not desert her. As Holt begins his investigation, he meets a variety of different locals but quickly learns there is almost no one that can be trusted. Torn between his desire to safely return home to his daughter and his wish to help Saffire, Holt weaves himself into a completely new culture that is full of secrets, danger, and the beautiful Raquel Sandoval.

James Holt is an intriguing character that is both very simple and very complex. He has a crooked nose due to a break when the love of his life punched him out of jealousy. He wears a cowboy hat and cowboy boots which make him very noticeable in the Panama Canal zones. Holt is fairly quiet but as a subtle, dry sense of humor and a fondness for sarcasm. Saffire was also a compelling character. This young, head-strong girl faces a great deal of racism due to her mixed ethnicity, but also appears to have a great deal of power, with many locals doing anything they can to help her. Saffire had grown-up in the home of the powerful Ezequiel Sandoval, whom she considered a grandfather, where her mother had worked as his cook until her disappearance. This was technically her home, but she roamed the streets as she pleased with a bodyguard not far behind. T.B. Miskimon, Goethal’s assistant, was a character that I loved and hated at the same time. He could quickly switch from following Holt and annoying him to death, to showing up at the right place and the right time to lend assistance. The banter between Holt and Miskimon was funny at times, despite Holt’s sarcasm and Miskimon’s disdain for it.

I admire the research and realism that went into “Saffire,” as well as, the fictional elements Brouwer included. Whether Holt was fighting the bad guys or taking moonlit walks with Raquel, the story was very entertaining and extremely interesting with facts about that time period. There were times I found myself wanting to hurry through some of the political history in various chapters. The information added value to the story, I just found it somewhat slow at times. Overall, this novel was beautifully written with a unique and engaging storyline. There were several suspenseful and surprising moments in the novel, specifically towards the end, that made this book even more enjoyable to read. I would highly recommend this novel to anyone, but especially lovers of historical fiction.

Learn more about Sigmund Brouwer by visiting his web page.

Purchase “Saffire” on Amazon.

*I received a copy of this novel from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.



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