Minotaur Books, $26.99, 278 pages, ISBN 978-1-250-04803-5
Unless you’ve recently vacationed in Costa Rica or Belize, the geography of Central America is pretty much terra incognita for most of us who live north of the Mexican border and speak English as our mother tongue. But back in the 1980s, the Central American nation of Nicaragua was a focus of attention by the US government as the communists—backed by the Cubans—fought the dictator Anastasio Samoza and deposed him. But then, the fight moved to neighboring El Salvador, where it became so vicious that “Even the Grim Reaper needs an armed escort to venture there.” With the USSR supporting the communist insurgents and the USA backing the Salvadorean Government, the tiny country became the scene of a bloody proxy war between the superpowers. It’s a rich—and previously unexplored—source for crime fiction writers. That’s all changing, thanks to a talented writer named Joe Gannon.
His second work of fiction, The Last Dawn, is the follow up to his debut entitled, Night of the Jaguar. Both feature Ajax Montoya, an expatriate American who grew up in Los Angeles, California, but went on to be a Cuban-trained captain in the Sandanista Army. At the end of the war in Nicaragua, he frees his comrade-in-arms, Lieutenant Gladys Dario from a psychopathic, sadistic killer and rapist named Krill. Gladys escapes to Miami, but Montoya is imprisoned in a mental hospital for his actions against the new Sandinista Government. Now, it’s three years later . . . 1989 . . . and unbeknownst to Montoya, the communist world has changed. The Berlin Wall has fallen, Germany is reunited and the U.S.S.R. has crumbled, but the civil war in El Salvador is at it’s zenith. When the man who betrayed him shows up, Montoya takes on the hopeless task of finding—and rescuing the brother of the woman he loved and lost, who died during the Nicaraguan War. Her parents are using Montoya’s guilt as leverage to locate their son, who’s somewhere among the disappeared. All Montoya has to do is infiltrate the nastiest civil war on the planet where he has no friends, local contacts, weapons or knowledge of conditions on the scene and find his own escape route once the mission is completed.
This arresting novel is fast-paced, loaded with action and contains an element of magical realism featuring a ghost, who represents Montoya’s guilt. The Last Dawn is a slam-bang thriller that’ll leave you eagerly anticipating Mr. Gannon’s next installment of his Ajax Montoya saga.