Better known for historical novels written as William Napier, here Hart tackles a contemporary subject — the idealism of youth and how it can evaporate. Four young medical students are in Central America, desperate to do good. The unnamed country (Guatemala?) is in the grip of drug wars, with street gangs and armed militias everywhere. The most idealistic of the four, Nicholas, lodges with a poor family and is transformed by the experience, especially his relationship with a little girl, Lala. Conditions worsen and Nicholas’s companions all decide to return home, but he refuses. Then Lala goes missing. Nicholas sets out to find her and purge his own bad childhood memories. Told with emotional intensity, it moves you to tears.
Four English medical students...volunteer for a stint in a beautiful but dirt-poor Central American country. They are all keen to do good, but hopelessly out of their depth in a society where kitschy, cocaine-funded McMansions spring up where there used to be tropical forest, and policemen’s heads turn up at the bus station in plastic bags. Nicholas becomes traumatically involved with the nightmare misfortunes of his sincere and genuinely lovable host family after they are evicted by soldiers, while a kindly but cynical local doctor has some memorable lines. Above and behind everything is the suave, gangster-like figure of the Colonel, who enjoys comparing himself to Hitler. Edgy and totally gripping, with little comfort in it, the story is written with a cinematic vividness, and the never-quite-specified country (second only to Haiti in poverty, and second to none in its murder rate) feels appallingly authentic: this is one of those books where you feel that the writer has really been there.