Robert Knott has reached what he considers the end of the line for his diplomatic career. He’s finally fetched up in Antananarivo, in Stephen Holgate’s Madagascar, after years of bouncing around third world postings across the world. He occupies himself with gambling and doing the bare minimum at the American Embassy, resigned to an ignoble existence at the end of the world. But when his debts are called in, he’s assigned to getting an American out of prison, and unrest starts to sweep the country, Knott discovers hidden depths.
Knott has been in Madagascar long enough to know how things work. Corruption is the only way to get things done. It drives his fellow Americans nuts, but suits Knott down to the ground. Knott knows nothing will get done when he’s tasked with passing on messages and requests from his government. There’s no reason for the Malagasy to kowtow to the United States. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t bother Knott, but shortly after we meet him, Knott visits American Walt Sackett, a cattle rancher who ran out of money to pay bribes and “taxes.” Knott can’t get Sackett released without cash—and he has also just been informed that his credit at the Zebu Room has run out.
The pace of Madagascar speeds up, chapter by chapter, as Knott gets more invested in helping Walt and Walt’s girlfriend, Nirina, and as he tries to figure out how to get out of his money predicament. His live and let live attitude sputters out and, suddenly, he has to learn how to use all of the tricks he’s picked up over the years. Perhaps the biggest trick that he learned is that, Knott explains, little mistakes will get you sent back to the states. But a big fuck up, with lots of publicity, might mean that he can be a hero for once in his life.
I liked this second trip to Madagascar (after reading Naivo’s Beyond the Rice Fields), for the most part. I was annoyed by the way that Malagasy people are generalized. There are only three Malagasy who get significant screen time, so we never get the opportunity to make up our own minds. Mostly we see Americans who are either unwilling to adapt or who are all to willing to try and create their own Kurtz kingdom. Readers who are looking for diversity and sensitivity will have issues with Knott. Readers who are willing to let the vazaha (Malagasy for foreigners) slide a bit and want to read an adventure in a setting that doesn’t appear much in fiction, will enjoy Madagascar.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration. It will be released 29 May 2018.