Imagine making Dhs70,000 a month and wanting more. But when things come that easy for young American men like Gabriel Francisco de Bayo, how could you not?
Gabriel’s company, an avaricious hedge fund, has sent him to the heights of La Paz in Bolivia to find out when President-elect Evo Morales will nationalise its vast supply of natural gas. If Gabriel can break this news before anyone else, his investment company stands to make millions and he will earn a cool half-million himself. Not bad for an entry-level position. But it turns out it may come at the expense of the country he is enamoured with, the region that bore him and the woman he loves.
Gabriel’s espionage and the subsequent tangle of deceit may share elements of the international thriller, but in his debut novel, Mountford is more concerned with the moral stakes of desire, whether it is pure self-interest or the considerations demanded by love. Handsome, ambitious and very charming, Gabriel falls in love with Evo’s press secretary, Lemka, even as he leverages her for information. He does the same to his beloved mother, a liberal firebrand who fled Chile in fear of Pinochet. Working for The Nation, his professor-activist mother invites Gabriel to accompany her on an interview with Evo. Blessed with such fortune, Gabriel is both hero and villain, duplicitously awash in the moral ambiguity of capitalism.
As a younger man, Mountford wrote about economics for a non-profit think tank that he later discovered was a hedge fund. But unfortunately, his insight into the lures and pitfalls of capitalism is limited by his focus on Gabriel. In the end, the reader wants a little less of Gabriel and a wider lens trained on the people affected by his actions.