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Where’s Bob?

by Ann Ireland

Ann Ireland’s fifth novel might just confirm some Trump supporters’ worst suspicions about Mexicans: reading this novel, it would appear that they’re all thieves, drug dealers, and murderers living and operating in a land of rampant corruption and crime. No one, it seems, is safe – especially two ordinary white women, a mother and daughter vacationing at La Pirámide resort in the Yucatán. Not long into their stay, the two become embroiled, largely unwittingly, in local intrigue.

The vivacious septuagenarian, Iris, is determined not to let her recent hip replacement slow her down. Lydia is Iris’s more cautious and newly single daughter. The pair arrive at La Pirámide as an election for state governor is ramping up. The sketchy title character, Bob, is an American who spends a lot of time at the resort on questionable business, has a penchant for suddenly and inexplicably disappearing, and befriends the trusting Lydia. Bob is taken by surprise when Alejandro and Martina Gutiérrez – he a candidate for governor, she a famous television personality – turn up at the resort.

Bob, convinced the Mexican power couple is after more than a relaxing vacation, insists, “Something is afoot.” When the painter Victor Garcia Pacheco – a sort of Diego Rivera figure with an unexpected connection to Iris – arrives at the resort to meet with Alejandro, the mystery deepens. Soon violence erupts at La Pirámide.

Where’s Bob? excels at depicting a Mexico where nothing is as it seems, from fake Mayan ruins built to deceive tourists to a venerated Mexican artist who would have preferred a career in America. Even the charming young waiter tending bar at the resort turns out to be a violent criminal. Unfortunately, Ireland’s characters end up more like caricatures: the gullible and goofy tourists, the small-time drug dealer with a good heart who works all the angles, the slick crime boss, and the doomed idealistic politician determined to restore peace to the land. As a satirical tale of a Mexican vacation gone very wrong, this novel could shine. In its straightforward telling, however, it falls flat.