Monday, June 13, 2016

Revisiting Panama Red

During a visit to Sault Ste. Marie in the late 1980s, I purchased a paperback copy of The Last White Man in Panama by Canadian writer William Gough. I enjoyed the thriller, then placed it on a shelf and gave it little thought until a few days ago when I decided it was time to reread it.

The story tells of Red Williams, a con man operating in Panama whose prostitute girlfriend is tortured and murdered. The men Red believes responsible turn out to be a couple of brothers working for an American television network whose head aspires to become president of the United States.

Coming to Red's aid as he tries to avenge her death are Jack, an older man (actually Red's father, who abandoned the family when Red was still a boy) with amazing survival skills, and Karen, a beauty who recently lost her broadcasting job in the same city where the ambitious network executive is located. Yes, happy coincidences play a big part in Gough's novel. Yet for all the rough stuff in the story, the whole thing has a light-hearted feel to it that makes a reader more willing to accept the unlikely. After all, it is not a novel to take very seriously anyway. But it is fun to read, and then reread 30 years later.

Returning to the novel after so many years made me wonder what happened to William Gough. Why have I never seen another book of his? An Internet search finds he's written some poetry, some children's books and assorted e-books. The only book I found anything like The Last White Man in Panama turned out to be The Last White Man in Panama but with a different title, Panama Red. I prefer the original title, even if it doesn't make sense. The novel, which had a major publisher (Penguin) when it first appeared, seems to have been the high point of a long, varied and ultimately disappointing literary career.

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