cover image Brown Shoe

Brown Shoe

Rick Slone. Random House (NY), $22 (1pp) ISBN 978-0-679-40093-6

An oversized U.S. citizen, Bobby Shafto, fearless and fast-talking, like the protagonist of Bellow's Henderson, The Rain King , lumbers into the Third World in this first novel. Slone worked as a photographer in South America, and early in the book the writing clicks with the ambient off-beat detail we'd expect from a slice-of-life photojournalist. Shafto, as surfing shutterbug, is at first brash and unflappable enough to win the trust of long-legged beauty Nina, a rebel leader, and the reader with his quirkiness. But once Nina's lover enters--corrupt Colonel Rinaldi, mastermind of martial law imposed on the mountain country that hides the rebel leader--the plot machinery overpowers Shafto's voice and the book devolves into a battle of macho--Midwestern vs. South American style. There is much to admire in Slone's witty evocation of an on-the-road expatriate, and much promise in his touch for detail, but these gifts are lost in the fast-paced tale of revenge he is trying to bring off. The quirkiness turns into character tics, and the photographer's compelling eye becomes the more mundane view from behind a B-movie camera. The writer's convincing familiarity with his subject--the vast divides of wealth and poverty in a Peru-like countryside--is wasted in the service of this unsurprising thriller. (July)