Every once in awhile we come across books that we simply can’t put down. FOR LOVE OF A CAUSE by Elly Michaels is one of them.
In 1970’s Bolivia a small insurgent group is battling an undefined but assumed corrupt and brutal government. American suburbanite Annie Crossland travels there with a church group to aid an orphanage and connects with the British purveyor for the well-hidden insurgent group. Annie accompanies him on a supply trip to the main rebel encampment where she finds a role for herself that has been hitherto missing in her life, as well as a volatile yet fulfilling relationship with the rebel leader. Yet we know the fate of most South American rebellions . . .
This is an amazingly well-researched book that lets us walk in Annie’s shoes the entire way. She is the bored wife of a wealthy and bland lawyer but she has hidden strengths and skills that quickly become useful to the rebel group; shooting thanks to skeet with her father, Spanish from college courses, and animal husbandry because of the horses she has at home. She is an innate organizer, as well, who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty.
The authenticity and writing quality of this book, in terms of both description and characters, cannot be overstated. Annie is no idealistic do-gooder and she is torn between going back to her husband, the Brit who makes periodic supply trips between civilization and the rebel encampment, and her growing fascination with Alex, the educated and handsome but brutal Marxist rebel leader (think Che complete with black beret and cigars.)
Everyone is complex—the product of their background—and Michaels does a wonderful job of slowly connecting Annie and Alex as each struggles with lust, ideology, and relationships with other members of the growing rebel force. I was impressed with the way the author kept Alex true to his character and never gave into temptation to soften him into an easier person for Annie to love. And Annie never loses her awareness of his volatility and cruelty. Dialogue is used to good effect such as when Alex taunts Annie because she is not eating and she tells him it is because he smells like an animal or they argue over socialist ideology. The atmospherics throughout the book are excellent and consistent.
The rebels want to create a new society in Bolivia and try to create a system of local justice to provide the peasantry some measure of protection and stem the Bolivian Army’s random seizures, taxes, and rapes. Annie gets caught up in the effort, deciding to stay with Alex and divorce her husband. Some of the best scenes are those in which Annie shoulders a gun and engages in guerrilla warfare with the rebels whose infiltration strategies are well described. Expect your heart to pound as Annie panics but does what is required, with an emotional aftermath she barely survives. Another stellar scene is when the volatile Alex finds out that she is married. And then there is the chilling moment when he becomes the ultimate arbiter of justice in the area the rebels now control.
I would have liked a little more backstory on the Bolivian government the rebels are fighting and a reference to JPG files was out of context, given the assumed time period of the book. The book also deserves a better editor, cover, and description page on Amazon. It is a gem that couldn’t be more hidden.
The author’s Amazon page and the book’s categories fit this into the Romance genre. There is sexual tension, to be sure, but billing this book as a run-of-the-mill romance does it a disservice. This is a sweeping 5 star novel that fans of Ann Patchett or Anita Shreve will enjoy.