Treaty Violation by Anthony C. Patton 235 pages, The World as Story, 2002 & 2007 

The secret world has an allure for many different kinds of people. For laymen it’s fun to read about dead drops, clandestine ops, moles and spymasters who have captial letters instead of names. Some of the most avid readers of spy novels are the spies themselves. And of course, spies also write them.

Anthony C. Patton’s novel Treaty Violation takes place mostly in Panama in the late 1990s and concerns the machinations surrounding the treaty that turned over the Panama Canal to the Panamanian  government in 1999. The players are a cabal of Panamanian pols, a clutch of CIA agents and an assortment of Columbians: drug dealers, military officers and guerillas. It’s a volatile, explosive mix packed into a hot, humid,  intrique-reeking, Latin-beat laced atmosphere. And Patton knows how to  detonate it, even if he takes his time before pushing the button.

 I don’t know where Patton got all his information, but it smacks of the real thing. This book is not a cozy. I learned more about how to pull off high level drug smuggling in this book than in all the news reports, Hollywood movies and other books I’ve ever seen or read. And that’s not to mention all Patton has to say about interdiction, military cooperation between the US, Panama, and Columbia as well as the inter-agency politics and rivalries between the various US government assets devoted to the so-called War on Drugs.

Tyler Broadman is a CIA agent in Panama running drugs out of Columbia to help the company back in Langley raise money to conduct black ops without the annoying oversight of Congress. He’s in love with a Panamanian beauty named Helena and both are dead by the end of chapter one. Nicholas Lowe, Tyler’s best friend and fellow CIA agent, would like to know who killed them. We meet so many characters in the next few pages it’s a little difficult to know what’s important and what’s not. But soon Lowe is in Panama carrying on Broadman’s mission and doing a little detective work on his own into the deaths of his friends.

The confusing point of view shifts continue unabated as we are introduced to the large cast of characters, all of whom have a stake both in the drug business and the coming turnover of the canal to Panamanian control. We are also given some hints about a secret organization within the CIA called simply The Order which seems to be pulling most of the strings. Nicholas Lowe has been promised membership in this group if he’s able to pull off his mission successfully.

The plan is to fool the combined drug interdiction efforts of the US, Panamanian and Columbian military, pay the Panama-based Colombian drug lord Cesar Gomez for the dope, collect a considerably marked-up fee from the buyers in the Bahamas, and the tip off the US Coast Guard to sieze the shipment before it enters the US. No harm, no foul, the way The Order sees it. When the CIA has made enough money it then wants Gomez busted. Only things have a way of not going exactly as planned.  

The murder of Tyler Broadman and the apparent suicide of the beautiful but drug-addicted Helena are wild cards that keep turning up and changing outcomes as well as loyalties. Patton’s strength as a writer lies in his knowledge of this world. Everything, the characters, their speech and mannerisms, the various moves made by the players all feel authentic. If he has a weakness it is that he has failed to create a strong rooting interest for the reader. Since he killed Broadman and Helena in the first chapter the  reader has no time to become emotionally invested in either. And the large cast and multiple points of view used to narrate the tale keep the reader guessing for a long time that it is Nicholas Lowe with whom they are supposed to identify, and let’s face it, it’s hard to love a drug-running CIA agent who’s main ambition is to join a secret society bent on world domination, even if he changes his mind about that and is driven by a desire to find out who killed his best friend who was also a CIA drug-runner.

Still, Treaty Violation is a good read thanks to Patton’s way with words. He’s a fine writer and his rich prose carries the reader along, creating a powerful momentum that gets you turning pages. In this book he’s opened a door into the secret world that fans of the genre will want to step through.

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