The Book: Kent Harrington, RED JUNGLE. Dennis McMillan Publications, 2004. First edition inscribed to the owner: "For Clair - a dear friend - and who made it not a jungle but a book - xxhug - Kent." Fine condition.
First read: 2003
Owned since: 2005
In addition to this copy, I own a signed limited edition (in a lovely slipcase) and a marked-up bound galley, which I proofread. One of my earliest memories of my current apartment is pacing in my empty bedroom, before any furniture arrived, reading off corrections to Dennis McMillan late one weekend night.
If that sounds a little extreme, a little above-and-beyond, it's appropriate for this book, which was a labor of love for all concerned. To this day, this is the best novel I've ever worked on. I edited Kent's drafts as he wrote them, something I don't do for any other client. We went through at least three -- maybe four -- I lost count. It is the most personal of his books, inspired by his own mother's story, and it's a book that should have found a much wider audience. Dennis McMillan printed 2,000 copies, plus a tiny limited run (the slipcased edition). If you are lucky enough to come across one, hang onto it.
Kent described Red Jungle as Treasure of the Sierra Madre meets The Quiet American, and I can't improve on that. Russell Cruz-Price was born to an American father and a Guatemalan mother. His mother, a member of Guatemala's ruling elite, was killed in the nation's civil war when Russell was a student at a military boarding school in the U.S. Twenty years later, he returns to Guatemala as a journalist, disguising his family background. Almost immediately, he is pulled into two unlikely quests: the search for a mythical red jade jaguar, on property that used to belong to Russell's family, and the effort to depose Guatemala's dictator.
And of course he falls in love -- with the worst possible choice, an unstable Englishwoman who is married to the head of the secret police. Russell, in the tradition of all classic noir heroes, refuses to compromise one obsession for another, choosing instead to risk all in hopes of winning it all. Along the way, he even learns the terrible truth about what happened to his mother.
Kent's latest book, THE GOOD PHYSICIAN, was launched this weekend at NoirCon. I edited that one, too, and it too has been published in only a very short run. It's hard to find, but The Mystery Bookstore will have copies; order one from them.