4 out of 4 stars
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Hot, humid, tempestuous Panama is the setting of a political action novel in The Expansion by Christoph Martin. Max Burns is a geomatic engineer tasked with preparing a winning bid to expand the Panama Canal. Karis Deen is an enigmatic, enchanting young woman working for the Smithsonian branch in Panama, with ties to people Burns would love to never meet. They spend a single, torrid night together before being separated for years. Max works for an old friend from boarding school named Godfredo Roco and his father Paco Roco, but this project has hidden corners Max knows nothing about. Collusion with the council in charge of the Panama Canal, meddling American and Chinese ambassadors, and murder all take place deep in Central America, where nothing is as it seems.
Max Burns takes a chance on a project of a lifetime, the expansion of the Panama Canal. He works with his old friend Fredo, as well as Fredo’s father Paco, but he is suspicious the entire time. Little things seem to not add up, and Max has never trusted Paco anyway. This stems from the obvious beatings Godfredo received when he was younger. Max ends up being a pawn in a game that he is uncomfortably involved in, without knowing most of the details. Godfredo is placed in a position to choose between his father and familial loyalty, and his friend who has only ever placed his trust in Fredo. Karis Deen is a wild card that throws a wrench in many people’s plans when she makes a decision that affects everyone around the world.
Martin did an excellent job on this novel! He combined a fast-paced, political action novel with deep themes about loyalty, friendship, and honesty. Almost every single character is faced with a unique challenge that presses them to decide what kind of person they are going to be. People are forced to decide between their country and their honor, or their blood given family and their chosen family. Not everyone makes the right choice, but they make the choice based on what they know at the time. Most of the characters are relatable, but I think I find Godfredo the most relatable overall. He is forced into a position many know quite well. He has to choose between going against a turbulent, aggressive father who he has never stood up to, and helping a good friend who is about to have his life demolished. I think most people can relate to having to stand up to someone they fear on behalf of someone they care about deeply. The story is quite realistic because Godfredo doesn’t make the choice until it is almost too late for him to help, which is something a lot of people have dealt with before.
There is nothing bad I can say about this book. Martin hit the nail on the head with this one, and it was impeccably edited to boot. I could not put this book down, and I actually ended up reading it twice. I wanted to know what happened so badly that I blew through it the first time, then I went back through to read it carefully enough to review. This is a rare thing for me, so I give The Expansion 4 out of 4 stars. I have not rated a book so easily and quickly in my life. This novel is exactly the sort of thing I would want to have on a plane or a long car trip. The reader is immersed so deeply and quickly that hours of reading pass without a single thought to the time.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of action, mystery, politics, or crime. These elements are balanced beautifully to bring together a well-paced, intriguing novel. I would not recommend this book for children, or anyone who does not like books about the delicate nuances in the power dynamics between people or countries. If political books are not someone’s cup of tea, then I would urge them to skip this one.
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