Panama—Eric Zenecy—1995–in print
When first published, this literary thriller was given rave reviews, and so, I just had to read it. And the critics were correct. The atmosphere is palpable, you almost feel the Seine, wafting towards you, the anxiety over a missing woman, the thrill of a new discovery, identifying fingerprints. Imagine what that must have been like! Here was a positive way to identify someone at the scene of a crime–unheard of. Before, you looked to head shape and bumps, and how a person’s ears laid close to the head. LOL.
The title for some, may seem misleading. Only the barest of scenes takes place in Panama, but the story does involve the Panama Canal scandal, in Paris of 1892. The protagonist was a real individual, a historical one, in fact. Grandson of President John Adams, and son of President John Quincy Adams, he himself was a historian and philosopher. What I remember most about this title, is the easy way the story draws the reader in, the effortless ability to transport one into that place and time. I felt I knew Henry Adams, felt his confusion at times, his longings, pain. I’m not a big fan of location mysteries–I’m not one who likes to travel much in my mysteries, outside of the US, and of course, the UK. lol. Although real life Paris would tempt me to visit, if I had the ability, spending time there via book has never entreated me. Until now. My memories do not include details, but the Publisher’s Weekly review from its release does below. I do remember loving loving the cover of the book–which is a no-no, I know-know. But can you blame me? A gorgeous large raised fingerprint caresses the jacket, inviting the reader to delve within.
Eric Zenecy wrote only this novel, and a group of twelve essays on how we see and treat nature around us. He’s also involved in economic thinking, which has recently received some attention. I’m sad he’s not turned back to fiction, I’d love to read something else from his talented mind, but if he has some solution to this economical depression, well, I’ll forgo the fiction and take a better reality!
Here’s the brilliant summation and review.
“This is that extremely rare find, a first novel that is not only extremely accomplished but also quite unlike anything else. It daringly places a real person, American historian and philosopher Henry Adams, into a historic situation. the scandal in 1892 Paris over the corrupt collapse of the grand Panama Canal plan, and makes of it a dashing, sometimes touching and, yes, thoughtful thriller. Adams is sketched quickly and deftly: enterprising, sensitive, observant, still mourning the suicide of his wife years earlier, half in love with beautiful Elizabeth Cameron. We see him briefly in Panama, stealing a picture that will come to be significant; at Mont Saint-Michel and Chartres (naturally), where he is much taken with a young American painter, Miriam, who seems like a new breath in his life, and to whom he becomes quickly, quixotically attached; finally in Paris, where Miriam instantly disappears, is perhaps dead. At once, Adams begins to search for her, becoming involved with Parisian police, including a fledgling fingerprint expert and his young nephew; a coroner is killed, a macabre gift arrives for Adams via a pneumatique and the political plot around the Panama scandal, which could bring down a government and create a new one, thickens. At the heart of it all, Adams barges ahead like a gallant detective with the mind of an aesthete; through his eyes Paris, on the brink of the modern age, has never seemed stranger or more alluring, its people more enigmatic. That Zencey can create a headlong read, with a piercing climax and a poignant final note, out of such esoteric material is almost miraculous. A wonderful debut.”