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Panama Gold starts off with Fargo arriving in Long Island to visit his old commanding officer, The Colonel. And by 'The Colonel', we actually mean former Rough Rider and ex-President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. However, no matter how high his star had risen, Fargo will forever only think of Roosevelt as his commanding officer, and we are reminded that Fargo saved Roosevelt's life during the battle of San Juan Hill. The two are fast friends still, even after all those years (this story is set in 1912), and Roosevelt has a favor to ask of Fargo.
Roosevelt needs Fargo to kill a man.
Cleve Buckner is, like Fargo, a former military man, but unlike our main character, Buckner is a deserter, gone on the lam after shooting an officer who caught Buckner in bed with his wife. Buckner is a sort of dark reflection of Fargo; tough, battle-hardened, and utterly ruthless, but there is an evil, sadistic streak to Buckner which makes him immediately repellent. In a nice bit of symbolism, before we meet Buckner, it is pointed out that Fargo has clean, white teeth that are well-cared for, because the last thing a fighting man needs, out in the middle of nowhere on campaign, is an abscessed tooth or other ailment that could quickly lay him low. When we meed Buckner, one of the first things we learn about him is that his teeth are blackened and rotten, just like his soul.
Long story short, Roosevelt needs Fargo to kill Buckner, because Buckner has raised and trained a small army of mercenaries and cutthroats to attack and possibly blow up portions of the Panama Canal. Although Roosevelt is no longer President and has no real authority, he represents a small group of "private citizens" who have a vested interest in making sure the Canal goes through on time. There are also rumblings that foreign powers - namely Germany and Japan - would like nothing more than to see American and British naval powers deprived of the ability to move through the Canal any time soon. If Buckner succeeds in delaying the completion of the Canal by even a few months, it could give these aggressive nations just the window they need to take action on their enemies.
I won't give away any more of the story than that, because, like the first Fargo novel, there are a number of interesting twists and turns that shouldn't be spoiled. There's plenty of gun-fighting and adventure, especially in the depictions of the brutal jungles around the Canal, which Fargo finds himself having to traverse a couple of times. We are reunited once again with Fargo's small arsenal; the .38 Colt revolver loaded with "dum-dums", the sawed-off 10-gauge shotgun loaded with buckshot, and the deadly Batangas knife. Like the first novel, Fargo also carries a .30-30 Winchester carbine, but it gets misplaced early on and sees essentially no use.And again, like the first novel, the Fox double-barrel blows people away with the authority of a Napoleonic field piece loaded with canister shot, but the weapon is just so badass that we don't really care.
This book is a fitting follow-up to the first Fargo adventure, and if you liked that debut novel, you'll enjoy Panama Gold just as much. There's action, adventure, sex, boozing, gambling...pretty much everything you'd ever want in a book like this, all told with Benteen's skillful economy of words. These are definitely the sorts of books you buy as soon as you can, read as quickly as you can, and then you sit around slightly miffed that you'll have to wait so long to get your hands on the next volume.