FABER £12.99 £11.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897

Darien Dogs by Henry Shukman

Trouble in paradise: good prose isn't enough, decides Henry Sutton, if your subject matter is seedy and unnattractive

Failed banker and disgruntled human being Jim Rogers is in Panama to clinch one last deal and save his skin. Except he can't help himself and he slips into the Geisha Sauna, across the parking lot from his hotel. Here he meets the beautiful Paulina, and falls madly in lust. After a dreary business dinner, where a dodgy Argentine business associate plies him with tons of cocaine, and, strangely, gives him a mysterious document for safe keeping, Jim returns to the Geisha Sauna.

In a Pretty Woman sort of moment, he asks Paulina to be his girlfriend and he takes her back to his hotel. Waking early the next morning, he decides to leave his sleeping beauty and have a proper sauna in the hotel's spa. Of course, by the time Jim gets back to his room Paulina has gone and so has his wallet, and the mysterious document. This document, it turns out, is the blueprint for a trans-national oil pipeline, which the business deal completely hinges on. Without it, no deal.

The dodgy Argentine business associate is furious, Jim less so. He doesn't really blame Paulina. What else was she going to do? Anyway Paulina is really called Nikiri, and she's an Amerindian Indian from the beautiful and remote Darien archipelago - where, coincidentally, the pipeline is destined to cut through. Jim and the dodgy Argentine set off for Darien, with very different agendas.

Henry Shukman is an acclaimed poet and gifted travel writer, and this is his first novel. His effortless, almost breezy style, is quietly captivating, and despite the story becoming both more familiar, and more ludicrous, I wanted to go on. Needless to say, Jim finds the wonderfully smooth skinned and pert-breasted Nikiri and goes native in an unspoilt tropical paradise, while the Argentine is ever more determined to get the ball rolling on his nasty, polluting pipeline. The story ends in total disaster.

It is, however, unsatisfying. Apart from the slightly tired message about capitalist values verses native tribal integrity, it's way too short to be a novel, so four short stories have been tacked on the end. Not a good idea - firstly because they quickly detract from any resonance that Darien Dogs might have left, and secondly they are so similar in tone it's hard to remember what happens in which story.

Also, like the novel, or I suppose novella, they are slightly smutty, in a seedy old man sort of way. In "Castaway", morose Harry Burton reluctantly takes a short holiday on the Bahamian island of Blunt. He's the only guest at the Pittstown Point Landings hotel. But fortunately it's run by the rather tasty Trudy, who, being American, probably "trimmed her pubes". When he wakes up next to Trudy the next morning, feeling depressed about the whole inevitability of having shagged her, his hand "grazes a pubic bush". We're not told whether this is trimmed or not.

In "Old Providence", Shukman serves up more tropical soft porn. Young, talented painter Billy Rothman moves to a tiny Carribean island with exotic Colombian-American Maria. What with the heat, the sunsets, and the lush undergrowth, Billy just can't resist Conchita and her nipples, like "thick buds of chocolate". Having soiled his paradise, he finds that the rest of his life is screwed. Shukman can certainly write prose. Sad, then, that his subject matter can very quickly become so unattractive.

Henry Shukman will be making two appearances at Dartington Literary Festival on Friday 16 July, to discuss both his poetry and how his varied career has influenced his fiction. For more information, call 01803 867 373, or see www.wayswithwords.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before