A story of pride, politics and power
Published by Crooked Cat 30 June 2015
Scroll down for a Summary, Excerpts and Reviews
The Setting: A fictional (and unnamed) Latin American country, in the present day.
Carlos: The ruler of his country for the last 37 years. Once a liberal socialist, he has become autocratic and authoritarian, regarding repression as a distasteful necessity. Now in his seventies, he is feeling his age and seeing enemies around every corner. But he remains convinced that he alone can be trusted with the stewardship of the nation and so must keep all power to himself.
This image of Augusto Pinochet of Chile
is close to how I imagined Carlos would
look, though he is a different character
from Pinochet (and has a beard).
Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional
Juanita: Carlos’s estranged wife, who has been under house arrest for over fifteen years. She is
writing a memoir in which she recalls the revolution that brought Carlos to power and charts
the history of his premiership and their marriage. Feminist and pro-democracy, she has become a
cause celebre for opponents of Carlos’s regime.
Manuel: Vice-President and Minister for Information and Security. Efficient, ruthless and manipulative. Frustrated by his subordination to Carlos, he had once hoped that his elevation to the Vice-Presidency was a sign that the older man might be preparing to stand down. That was fifteen years ago.
Angel: Minister of Defence and Head of the Army. Down to earth and pragmatic, he respects Carlos and has no desire to take the Presidency for himself. Nevertheless, as the one man with the power to do so at will, he is not fully trusted.
Corazon: Carlos’s mistress, she ministers to his needs with skill and surprising tenderness. Much younger than Carlos, she maintains a discreet social life of her own: innocent enough but, like her cocaine habit, it makes her vulnerable.
Felipe: Carlos’s private secretary. Loyal and efficient, he understands the President better than anyone. He is trying his best to drag the technophobe Carlos into the modern world.
The annual public celebration of Revolution Day is a source of strength and renewal for Carlos, fortifying him to shoulder his great burden of responsibility for another year.
Manuel sees it very differently. This day is a stark reminder of his own subservience, and of the twist of fate which propelled Carlos, rather than Manuel himself, to the presidency when the leader of their movement was killed during the overthrow of the previous regime. When his attempts to raise his profile as Vice-President are met with humiliating rejection, he resolves to take action. But how? As long as Angel – and thus the Army – remain loyal to Carlos, he has little hope of seizing the presidency.
He comes to realise that the way to achieving his goal lies not in force, but in manipulating the perceptions both of Angel and of Carlos himself. And the resources to do this are already under his control as Minister of Information.
As Manuel begins to pull the strings, both Juanita and Corazon will become unwitting participants in his plans.
Here is the very start of the novel, where we get our first look at President Carlos Almanzor, at the annual celebration that gives the novel its name.
At six minutes past ten, the sun climbed above the Government buildings on the east side of the square. As the shadows lifted, the large number of people gathered there started to become uncomfortably hot. With the sunlight came a change in tone of the hubbub of the crowd, as the mood of thousands of individual conversations turned from anticipation to irritation. Like some great beast disturbed in its repose, the crowd ceased to purr and began to growl. Around the edges of the square, men in uniforms sensed the change and gripped their guns a little more tightly. As minutes passed and the crowd grew ever more restive, the men began to pace nervously up and down. Then, suddenly, at a sign from one of their number, they stood to attention. A door opened onto the balcony of the presidential palace, and a cheer arose from the back of the crowd, flowing like a wave through the square to engulf even those at the front who could not yet see, their view obstructed by the tall facade of the building.
Yet the balcony remained empty, and the cheer began to falter as people wondered whether anything was going to happen. At last, the figure of an old man stumbled onto the balcony. He appeared lost, confused, as if, in the grip of senile delirium, he had wandered onto the balcony by mistake. His body was so frail, so insubstantial, that it seemed to be held upright only by the starched creases of his elaborate uniform. But the cheer grew in intensity till it was almost deafening, and the old man drew energy from it, straightening his hunched back and stepping forward with new confidence to the lectern at the front of the balcony. With broad sweeps of his arms he first acknowledged and then stilled the cheers to complete silence. His face was now displayed upon large screens on either side of the balcony, revealing wisps of white hair beneath his peaked admiral’s cap, and folds of skin beneath his sad grey eyes. He took a deep breath, and from his mouth issued a voice of unexpected strength and sonority.
“My friends,” it said, prompting a fresh cheer which he allowed to bloom for a few seconds before silencing it with his open hand, “We are here today to celebrate the liberation of our great nation from despotism. Thirty-seven years ago today, people came to this square to express their anger at fifteen years of repression, of corruption, of injustice. They presented their grievances peacefully, but were met by vicious force.” At this point he paused, as had become his habit, to allow the crowd to boo at the atrocities of the long-dead dictator. He had often thought to himself that these events had more in common with pantomime than with politics. “But this time the people did not run away. This time a new spirit stirred in them, a spirit that would not be broken…”
Here Manuel reflects on his situation and resolves to take action.
Manuel was not a gambling man. He did not see the point in risking good money for a less than even chance of winning a little bit more. The people who were addicted to this chaotic process, who found excitement in it, seemed foolish to him, even slightly mad. They must surely know, on some intellectual level, that in the long run they could never win; the odds were such that every short term gain must be more than cancelled out by bigger losses later on. How else could bookmakers and casinos make their money? Yet still these people did it, throwing good money after bad time and again. He could see no appeal in this wilful irrationality. How much more satisfying it was to eliminate risk; to keep what one has secure and build upon it steadily and incrementally, knowing that progress is inexorably upwards rather than a haphazard jumble of up and down, with the possibility of disaster around every corner.
But if what one has is worthless, then the risk of losing it is no risk at all. If there is little to lose and the possibility of gaining a great prize, then to roll the dice seems not like gambling, but rational behaviour. And yet, it is still rolling the dice. As he contemplated the possibility of doing so, Manuel experienced for a moment the frisson of excitement that the gambler must crave: that strange wild union of hope and fear. He felt for the first time some partial insight into why they did what they were compelled to do.
The fear, he told himself, was irrational. His situation had become intolerable. Had he not been endlessly patient? He had devoted himself to loyal subservience for decades, quietly doing service for the President and the Republic, setting aside his personal dreams and tugging his forelock to Carlos, who claimed all of the real power and kudos exclusively for himself. Had he, Manuel, not been utterly reasonable? He had restrained his aspirations and suggested modest and sensible proposals for minor additions to his responsibilities, putting them forward in a way that was clear, cogent and extravagantly respectful to Carlos’ exaggerated sense of his own importance. And how had his ideas been received? With gratitude, with open-mindedness, with reasoned discussion? No. With condescension, with contempt, with the blind, unthinking negativity of an old man approaching senility and clinging desperately to every last morsel of power or prestige that he holds, as a drowning man clutches at driftwood.
There could be no underestimating the difficulty of the task. He could expect no support from the other members of the Revolutionary Council: Carranza and Farias had always been Carlos’s men, while Angel, who as head of the Army had the keys to power in his pocket, remained obstinately, inexplicably loyal to him. But Manuel was in no hurry. He had learned well how to play the waiting game over many years. It was not the waiting itself which had become intolerable but the lack of any prospect worth waiting for – that was no longer an issue. The dice would be rolled – he was now resolved upon that. The plan, as it came together, would tell him when, and how.
Juanita recalls a key moment of the revolution that brought Carlos to power.
When the first shots rang out, and Raul ceased to be the darling of the Partido Socialista and became its most famous martyr, we had just managed to bring the column to a halt. That was enormous good fortune. Had it been moving, in either direction, panic and excitement would have turned walking into running and there would have been no stopping it. Either we would have surged into the avenue just in time to be smashed by the guns and batons of the charging guards, or we would have fled headlong into ignominy and failure.
Instead, we stood and watched as, seventy metres away where our road joined the avenue, our comrades ceased to march from left to right and began to run from right to left, some falling headlong in their panic. Then, a few metres behind, the presidential guards in their blue uniforms charged after them, some pausing to club the fallen with batons or rifle butts; others to fire shots at the fleeing protestors. I remember thinking how odd they looked, actually fighting in their ceremonial tunics covered in gold braid and medals. A few seconds later, they too were gone; all that remained was the din of violence further down the avenue and a few bodies lying ominously still and twisted in the road.
It was then that I became uncomfortably aware of two hundred pairs of eyes focused searchingly upon Carlos and myself. “What shall we do?” they demanded silently. I had no answer for them. Now the moment of crisis had come, I was as paralysed and helpless as a frightened rabbit. I stood there, open-mouthed, and looked in desperation at Carlos. He too was still and silent, and at first he looked as dumbfounded as everyone else. Then his expression changed. His features became clenched in intense concentration; his eyes looked downward, moving this way and that as if the solution was written somewhere upon the pavement. I imagined cogs whirring in the machine of his brain as options were thought through to their conclusions, evaluated, discarded. Then he looked up, and from his face shone an expression of calm triumph that I had never seen before. He looked quickly behind him, and mounted some steps that led up to the door of a building, so he could clearly be seen by everyone.
“Comrades. You have seen what the dictator’s guards have done to our friends. This means that the fate of this nation now rests in our hands,” He spoke in a voice of great strength and assurance. We had sometimes forgotten that he had been a lawyer, but his training stood him in good stead at this moment. “Those of you who are afraid, walk away and go back to your homes. No one will blame you. But those of you who are angry, those who hate injustice, those who want to seize this moment that history has given us, follow me.”
Another extract from Juanita's memoir - this time recalling an incident early in Carlos's regime.
Everything changed, very abruptly, one cloudy day in early November, after a swanky reception with the Russian ambassador and a group of military and industrial advisors. Very quickly after the revolution, Carlos had made tentative approaches to the Soviets, stressing our socialist credentials. They had responded eagerly, delighted to find new friends in a country that for decades had been in the pocket of the United States. Advisers were sent over and an exhibition was quickly organised in a huge hall in the centre of town, at which they showed off the military hardware that was on offer to help us protect ourselves against Salgado. Our generals and colonels, even those who had been part of the old regime, flocked to see them like kids in a toy shop. I spent a tedious couple of hours being polite to everyone, as the soldiers salivated over guns and rockets, and was relieved when, at midday, we finally broke for lunch, which was to be held in the palace, a kilometre down the road.
Outside, there was a long line of shiny black cars with flags on them. Mostly they were Mercedes, but there were a couple of Rolls-Royces at the front. These were favourites of the old President, but used by us only a couple of times for events like this one. We walked down the steps, sharing inconsequential conversation with the ambassador and his wife, and a protocol officer beckoned us towards the first Rolls-Royce. Carlos shook his head, and turned to the ambassador.
“You are our honoured friends and guests today; it is only right that you should have pride of place.”
So the ambassador, his wife, and the Russian general who was the boss of the advisers went in the first car, and Carlos, Angel and I in the second. Of the preceding conversations my only memory is of thinking that the ambassador’s wife was badly dressed and had nothing of interest to say. But my mind has preserved every detail of what happened next. I remember slumping in the seat, relieved that I did not have to make chit chat for a while. I remember looking at the red leather seats of the car and noticing that they were slightly faded. I remember putting my head back to relax and becoming aware that there were hundreds of faces peering at me from the side of the road. I remember starting to wave at them, having realised that I still had to put on some kind of an act, and feeling at once irritated, amused and flattered. I remember thinking how ponderous the convoy’s progress was, and wondering whether I would have to keep waving all the way. I remember hearing an untidy rattle of sharp bangs, and watching the people stop waving and turn their heads. I remember turning my own head, then seeing a man pointing a long tube at the car in front of us. I remember a bright flash (oddly, I don’t recall hearing a bang), and pieces of bodywork leaping into the air like scraps of paper caught by the wind. And I remember being thrown into the seat in front and onto the floor, as our driver stamped first upon the brake and then the accelerator and threw the Rolls-Royce into a violent turn. I have no memory of screaming, though people tell me I was hysterical. Then it is all a blank, until we have arrived somehow at the palace, and I am sitting in a leather armchair and people are comforting me and offering me things to drink. I remember thinking that the leather was the same colour as in the Rolls-Royce.
Here Manuel takes Carlos to see a prisoner who appears to have information about a plot against him.
The young man was sitting bolt upright in the chair, a posture which at first sight sat oddly with the expression of overwhelming weariness upon his face. Closer inspection would reveal, however, that his arms and legs were strapped to the chair, preventing him from slumping forward and giving him very little freedom of movement in any direction. There was blood around his mouth and nose, and bruises were beginning to form around his eyes. Facing him, in two more comfortable chairs against the far wall, were two guards, dressed not in uniform but in jeans, t-shirts and trainers, their thick arms copiously adorned with tattoos. A key turned in the lock of the room’s heavy door, and the door swung open.
“Sit up straight. You’ve got some important visitors.”
Three men entered the room; first, holding the key, an intelligence officer in a grey suit, a surprisingly slight and innocuous-looking man. The other two were known to all present as the Vice-President (and Minister of Information) and the President of the Republic. The guards sprang to their feet and saluted enthusiastically, hastily moving to positions behind the prisoner so that the VIPs could occupy the chairs they had just vacated. The intelligence officer also saluted, and waited for his guests to sit down before addressing the President.
“Presidente, allow me to present to you Hector Aguilar, until recently an activist with the Freedom and Democracy Party, who has provided us with some important information which we believe you would wish to hear.”
“I would salute you too, Presidente,” said Aguilar, “but as you can see, my arms are tied to this chair.” One of the guards moved to hit him, but the Vice-President stilled him with a wave of his hand. He then turned to face the President.
“Thank you for setting aside some time from your busy schedule to come here, Presidente. You have seen the intelligence reports, but I thought that it was best for you to hear the information from the horse’s mouth.” He nodded to the intelligence officer, who turned towards the prisoner.
“Tell the President what you told us earlier today.”
Aguilar hesitated for a moment. Then, as the nearest guard began to crack his knuckles, an expression of resigned weariness came over the prisoner’s face and he finally began to speak.
On one of her nighttime excursions, Corazon encounters an interesting stranger.
Corazon looked at her watch, her eyes straining in the dim light of the club. It was five past three. In less than three hours, Carlos would be awake. She should be going. She caught the barman’s eye and made the slightest of nods in the direction of the door. He gave a thumbs-up sign and punched a short message into a mobile phone.
“Ines, Carmelita, it’s time for me to leave.”
Though the small room in which they sat was away from the dance floor, the electronic bass beat was still more than loud enough to filter through the thin walls. Her friends, lost in their conversation, did not hear her and she had to tap Ines on the shoulder.
“I have to go,” she mimed, retrieving her short jacket from the back of her chair. Their faces assumed exaggerated expressions of sadness, and the three women exchanged hugs, planting the most fleeting of kisses deftly upon each other’s cheeks so as to leave no trace of lipstick.
The door opened and a man entered the room. This was not her usual driver: younger, taller, with slicked-back hair and dressed in a sharp black suit, he looked more like a guest than an employee of the club. Corazon gave the barman a puzzled look, but he smiled and beckoned her to come forward. She drained her glass and stood up, exchanging a second pair of hugs with Ines and Carmelita. At the bar she took from her handbag a little roll of banknotes and gave it to the barman, who nodded in thanks and gestured to her to follow the newcomer.
“This is Ramon,” he said, “our new driver. Angel has got himself a job with a different club. Don’t worry, he is discreet.” Ramon nodded and gave a little bow, then offered his hand. Corazon almost laughed at the formality of it, but nevertheless she grasped the hand and shook it. It was a large, heavy hand, that would not have been out of place in a wrestling ring, but it took hers with remarkable gentleness, as if handling a butterfly.
She followed Ramon down the back stairs of the club and into its underground car park. The place was dark and empty, and it occurred to her that if Ramon were not who the barman had said he was, she might be in danger. But she felt safe with him, and her trust was repaid when he opened the rear door of a silver Mercedes and, with another little bow, motioned for her to sit down. This time, she was not able suppress the gentlest of laughs.
“You don’t need to be so formal with me,” she said, “I’m very down to earth.”
He smiled and nodded, but his demeanour did not change at all. “As you wish, madam,” he replied solemnly, as if he were her butler.
“Thank you, Ramon,” she said, doing her best to affect an aristocratic accent, and taking his proffered hand to assist her smooth and dignified progress to a sitting position.
On the ten minute journey back to the palace, Corazon asked Ramon about his life, his previous job, what he thought of the club. His predecessor, Angel, had been happy to banter with her, but Ramon remained deferent and taciturn, giving only the briefest of answers to her questions.
“You are a quiet one,” she said at last. “I can see that I am going to have my work cut out with you.” Nevertheless, when the car pulled up in the back street which led to the tradesmen’s entrance to the palace, she gave him a generous tip, which he acknowledged with studied politeness. As she left the car, she blew him a kiss, She allowed her lips to remain pouted for a couple of seconds before leaving him with a smile, curling the tops of her fingers in the merest suggestion of a goodbye wave. She noticed, as she turned away, a slight crinkling in the corner of Ramon’s mouth. A little victory.
Reviews on Amazon
"This has to be one of the best novels I’ve read this year. It’s a story of a revolution betrayed. A revolution carried out by youthful idealists led by an inspired Carlos Almanzor that loses its way and yields, as most revolutions do, to the seduction of power. Ideals are corrupted, promises broken and the revolutionaries age in office.
We meet President Carlos in his seventies, his estranged wife, Juanita is under house arrest. Assassination attempts made against him, anger and puzzle him. And his trusted Vice President, Manuel Jimenez is conspiring to replace him.
Revolution Day is an engrossing read with a neat, satisfying end. Well conceived and plotted, it’s a fine piece of writing by any measure. And it’s a novel; not part of a “series” or a trilogy, but a straightforward novel standing on its own; an increasingly rare find on Amazon Kindle today I find. I recommend this book to all who enjoy a good, quality suspense thriller and good solid writing and I look forward to more from this writer."
"Super book, engrossing and challenging. Think of any revolution and you'll find dark shadows of it in this clever book. How history is perpetually repeated, opportunities missed, is all too clear. It's an enthralling read with large characters stepping out of the pages. A thoroughly good read."
"As an autocratic and repressive ruler hanging onto power after 37 years, Carlos Almanzor seems to have little choice as he tries to survive. The scenario that Tim Taylor paints so vividly echoes the real-life situations of so many abusers of power, and the downward spirals of many dictators. And the scheming of Carlos’ colleagues proves very Machiavellian – very appropriate since I won a copy of “The Prince” on the launch day of Tim’s engrossing novel.
In a way, I could relate being part-Chilean and having known both refugees from Pinochet and supporters of the Sandinista Revolution. The Latin flavour worked as well as the political elements, and through it all I had to root for Carlos’ estranged and imprisoned wife Juanita, as she reflected on the revolution and what could have been. In her character there were clever echoes of other imprisoned leaders that represent hope. Perhaps for liberty there is light at the end of the darkness."
"Spend time to absorb the first few chapters because as this book develops its full depth overwhelms you and you will need opening sequences to see how well plotted is this book. Not only is it clever on a political level but the characterisations of a reactionary young man who accidentally finds himself heading up a state and his group of casual revolutionaries including his loyal female supporter are all exceptionally well drawn as they head through middle-age to feared old age. The scenes are set in a South American state, the essay on how power corrupts, the brilliantly crafted insights into unforeseen dramas which threaten to rock the dictatorship will almost certainly keep you turning the pages."
" I am not a fan of this genre but the story got me hooked, this book absorbed me. I felt like I was in the revolution along with Carlos' team. It was beautifully written and the author did not use so much high sounding words, that is why I enjoyed it more. I enjoyed this and I am looking forward to the author's next books."