Tuesday, May 14, 2019

A Matter of Latitude, by Isobel Blackthorn

Creativia, December 2018

Paula Cray was an English tourist agent who went on vacation herself, to Lanzarote, an island in the Canary Islands. There she met Celestino Diaz, an artist and an anti-corruption activist, and fell in love. Now they are married, and have a daughter about to turn three years old. Paula's parents have moved to Lanzarote, too, to be near their only child and only grandchild. Gloria's birthday party is being held at the home of Paula's parents, Bill and Angela.

But there's a major storm bearing down on the island, and Celestino has a commission to deliver, first. Paula is annoyed that he'll be late, but is well aware that they do need the money he'll be paid.

The storm hits, even worse than anticipated, and Celestino never arrives.

We see, in alternating chapters, we see Celestino's struggle to survive after a truck intentionally t-bones his car--to survive while hiding the fact that he has survived, and to get to safety--and Paula's growing worry, and search for her missing husband.

Celestino is struggling with a broken arm, a dog bite from a hungry and desperate stray dog, and clear evidence that someone is still hunting him in case he survived.

Paula is struggling with her conflicted feelings about Celestino's anti-corruption activism, her still-limited command of Spanish, the fact that Celestino's friends seem evasive, and an often helpful neighbor whom Celestino doesn't trust, Shirley, is suddenly determined to drag her everywhere on the island in pursuit of her her own errands. She knows Celestino wouldn't want her calling the police, and anyway, what does she have to tell them, especially in the first few days? He's a grown man.

Her outings with Shirley lead her to discover some strange seeming pranks--art clearly her husband's work, with pointed political messages, substituted for more innocuous artwork in places where the message won't be appreciated. When she visits his studio, looking for evidence of where he might be, or might have been headed, she's sure someone has been there, someone other than Celestino, but on the first visit there's nothing specific she can point to. He's apparently not in any hospital. Shirley says she saw him leaving the house at 1:30 on the day of the party and the storm--far too late to have gotten to Gloria's birthday party, an infuriating detail. She also claims to have seen him headed out of the village in an unlikely direction.

Yet as Paula continues to dig, she begins to get a sense of why Celestino is so passionate about his anti-corruption campaign, and to share his passion. Meanwhile, Celestino is, along with surviving and trying to get home, doing some hard thinking about how much he may have put Paula and Gloria in danger, without keeping Paula fully informed, if someone is indeed trying to kill him over it.

This is a thoughtful and emotional work, that kept me absorbed from beginning to end. Recommended.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

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