Sugarland

Phillip Finch, Author St. Martin's Press $18.95 (264p) ISBN 978-0-312-06474-7
Finch ( Trespass ) vividly portrays a Third World tragedy in this flawed but generally engaging mystery. After insurance investigator Pat Collins is murdered in the Philippines, his colleague, ex-cop Jack Hart, is asked to pick up the trail of inquiry. Their firm has been trying to determine if Californian Carlito Sanchez really died in a fire while visiting Negros Occidental, the Philippine province where he was raised. Pursuing the investigation stateside, Hart learns that ``Lito,'' whose history of fraud is extensive, had spent a small fortune on weapons before his trip. Now Hart has the dangerous task of looking for Lito in an impoverished jungle fiefdom where Communist guerrillas, right-wing vigilantes and the Philippine army have been waging a pointless war. Despite the risks, Hart is eager to meet Lito's beautiful cousin Vangie, a photograph of whom has bewitched him. After he reaches Manila, he is guided by worldly, likable Bembo Rojas, via ferryboat and jeepneysic , to a sugarcane plantation providing work, housing and slave wages for thousands, at one time including Lito. This hacienda is owned by Luis Correon, for whom the guerrillas have been extorting ``revolutionary taxes'' and who is willing to help Hart search for Collins's murderer. The investigation grows more complicated as Hart finds and immediately falls in love with Vangie, who insists that her cousin is dead. Although she is not lying, it will not surprise the reader that she is wrong. This sort of predictability and the one-dimensionality of Hart's emotions for Vangie weaken the plot. Still, the resolution is quite poignant, and many of the other players, especially Bembo, are memorable. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/30/1991
Release date: 10/01/1991
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