by Christoph Martin
Clink Street Publishing
Courtesy of NetGalley
The Expansion by Christoph Martin is set in Panama and deals with the expansion of the canal. The original canal, completed in 1914, could not accommodate the modern large ships. The largest ships that could fit were labeled Pana-Max, for maximum size. After years of planning, Panama decided to go ahead with the expansion by building a new set of larger locks next to the original locks.
I was very interested in getting my hands on this book for one simple reason: I was born in the Panama Canal Zone. I am the descendent of one of the original workers. Although I left shortly after the end of fifth grade, my identity begins and ends as a Zonian. I was very curious to see if Mr. Martin could tell a good story and have an accurate Panama a the landscape on which he told it.
So many of the details are good. The oppressive humidity. The food. The mix of languages and customs. The extreme wealth and extreme poverty contained within Panama City. It was recognizable to me.
The main character of the story, Max Burns, is a British engineer who is hired to plan how the new canal will be built. He is hired by his childhood friend Godfredo Roco and his father Paco. Paco is a big league con man. His plan is to win the bid on the canal, start the work, drain off everything he can, declare bankruptcy and blame Max. He plans on doing it far into the project so Panama has no choice but to bail out the project and finish it. Godfredo is aware of some of his father’s plans but not all.
Added to the mix is Karis Deen. When the book starts, Karis is working for the Smithsonian in Panama as a biologist. She is actually a CIA agent is a deep cover project. As the canal project progresses, the US government keeps a wary eye on China who they fear want their own canal in Nicaragua and will try to sabotage the new Panamanian Canal.
The story is interesting. It is not compelling though. I had a hard time with Godfredo and Paco’s characters. They seemed two dimensional. Max seemed naive. All it all, it wasn’t a bad story until the end. The last chapter had me scratching my head. The book ended very abruptly, I mean VERY abruptly. I turned back and forth several times on my device trying to figure out where the conclusion of the story went. I am not sure if this is to be a series or not. If it is, the ending needs to get fixed or readers will not stick around for the next one.