Saffire: A Novel

Saffire: A Novel

by Sigmund Brouwer


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I reminded myself that once you start to defend someone, it’s difficult to find a place to stop. But I went ahead and took that first step anyway. . .
For President Teddy Roosevelt, controlling the east-west passage between two oceans mattered so much that he orchestrated a revolution to control it. His command was to ‘let the dirt fly’ and for years, the American Zone of the Panama Canal mesmerized the world, working in uneasy co-existence with the Panamanian aristocrats. 

It’s in this buffered Zone where, in 1909, James Holt begins to protect a defenseless girl named Saffire, expecting a short and simple search for her mother. Instead it draws him away from safety, into a land haunted by a history of pirates, gold runners, and plantation owners, all leaving behind ghosts of their interwoven desires sins and ambitions, ghosts that create the web of deceit and intrigue of a new generation of revolutionary politics.  It will also bring him together with a woman who will change his course—or bring an end to it.
A love story set within a historical mystery, Saffire brings to life the most impressive-and embattled- engineering achievement of the twentieth-century.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307446510
Publisher: The Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/16/2016
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 849,869
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

The best-selling author of the multi-award-winning World War II novel Thief of Glory, Sigmund Brouwer has written nineteen novels and has more than three million books in print. Through his Rock & Roll Literacy Show, he leads writing workshops to eighty thousand students a year in schools from the Arctic Circle to inner-city Los Angeles. Sigmund is married to recording artist Cindy Morgan and has two daughters.

Read an Excerpt

January 10, 1909
Col. Geo. W Goethals,
Chairman, I.C.C.
Culebra, Canal Zone
I have the honor to report concerning the members of the Police Department smoking while in full uniform and on actual duty.
My attention is attracted every day by this breach of discipline. For instance, yesterday, the 22nd inst.
1st-class Sergeant Carter, in command at Empire, while in full uniform with badge on, was walking up and down in front of the railroad station at that place smoking a cigar. Today, at railroad station at Gorgona, 1st-class policeman No. 42, while on active duty, was leaning against building with one hand in pocket smoking first cigarette and then a cigar.
At same time and place, Policeman No. 77, also on active duty at time, walks up with a cigarette in his mouth.
These are only a few instances. Most every day at some of the depots a policeman can be seen lounging against something or even sitting down smoking.
It is certainly not a military position to assume and if there is no rule in regard to this matter, it would look like they could be instructed along this same line.
I also noted for the past month, the train-guard of train numbers 6 and 7, has worked up quite a flirtation with a Mrs. Wilbur of Bohio, wife of a former policeman. On last Saturday, he assisted her train at Bohio and on arriving at Colon, he immediately joined her after having reported to his station. On return trip, he sits with her the entire time on train entirely neglecting his duties. Today she again gets on train at that point and on arriving at Colon, takes a cab for Pier No. 11, Cristobal. He joins her there. On return trip he again sits with her and the conductor is obliged to hunt him to have an unruly passenger ejected.
These, while small matters, cause comment from bystanders and passengers, causing the police force, for lack of discipline in same, to be a subject for gossip.
T. B. Miskimon
Reporters called it Hell’s Gorge, the world-famous Culebra Cut of the canal dig, in the American Zone of the Republic of Panama.
My view was from an observation deck, with a dozen tourists alongside me at the rails. Like the solitary woman walking on a path below us, they had stepped off the train with me.
Stairs from the top of the hill led down to the observation deck where I stood. The deck perched on the side of the dig, and a footpath, like a goat track, led away from the base of the stairs. The woman had been picking her way along, lifting her skirt slightly to keep the edges from getting soiled.
But . . . why was she down there alone?
Instead of admiring the sight of Hell’s Gorge or speculating on some woman’s actions, I should have been in the town on the ridge above, across from the train station, at the main administration building. That’s where I was to attend a meeting that had required weeks of travel, first on horseback from my ranch, through the Dakota Badlands, to the train stop in the closest town, Medora. Then nearly two thousand miles east by rail to New York, followed by a steamship a similar distance south to Colón, and finally rail again for a short journey south, across the isthmus to Culebra.
But this view of the dig would be my only sightseeing of the entire six-week journey, and only because I’d arrived early enough this Sunday morning for the indulgence.
If only my young daughter Winona could see what was in front of me. She would have been fascinated by the giant chasm filled with apparent chaos, at the shovel gangs and track gangs and surfacing gangs and dynamite gangs. Everywhere — on the floor of the man-made valley, on the sheer walls of cut rock, on the railroad tracks, and on the railroad cars — scrambled gangs of all nationalities, all dressed in the blue shirts and the khaki trousers that marked them as possessions of the Isthmus Canal Commission. Possessions of the man with absolute control over every aspect of it, an Army Corps engineer named Colonel George Washington Goethals.
If Winona were here, she would talk about it for days after. My daughter was nothing if not enthusiastic. I could have been like many of those on the observation deck with me, using a folding pocket Kodak or a Brownie to take photographs to show her, but I had neither. But then, Winona loved to read, so I would write a wonderful description in my journal and read it to her when I returned home. As usual, I would enjoy our conversation, for her quick mind would spur her to ask about details until she could see it as clearly as I did now.
Perhaps if her mother were alive, I wouldn’t worry so about her. But it was just the two of us. And no job, no request awaiting me in the administration building, would keep me from her for one more day than necessary. I would do what I came here to do, refuse the offer, and immediately head back to Colón to board a steamer to begin my journey home —
I frowned. Something was wrong. No, not wrong . . .
Missing. The constant noise that had assaulted my ears was gone. Silence had fallen upon the gorge. Drills ceased thumping and workers scurried to a collection area. The observation deck had to be a safe place to witness why the workers had begun to scurry, otherwise it wouldn’t be here. Was I the only one to understand the cessation of work and the movement of workers as something significant?
Apparently so, for those around me scarcely paused in their discourse. I turned my attention back to the woman who had ventured onto the hillside below and to my right. “Ma’am,” I called, “I’d suggest you hurry back up here.”
She did not respond.
I set my valise on the floor of the deck and moved to the base of the stairs, raising my voice.
“Ma’am, can you hear me?”
On top of the hill, a strong constant breeze from the Pacific up to the Continental Divide whistled through the canopies of the palm trees. While the patterned bark trunks and notched broad leaves were new to me, wind was wind, something that seemed to have a life of its own. I had grown up with long grasses that rippled to the horizon, wind that rustled the leaves of cottonwoods, flashing the pale underparts of leaves like minnows scurrying from a heron.
No, the wind hadn’t sent me from the top of the chasm down here into the Culebra Cut. Rather, it was the fact that down here I was away from the gaggles of tourists with the dangerous points of their careless parasols, nattering like geese out of range of a defeated coyote.
The tourists had come, even this early in the morning, because this, the acclaimed seventh wonder of the world, drew them from every point on the globe. They clogged hotels and restaurants at the anchor ports of Panama City and Colón on each end of the Canal Zone, these tourists determined to send postcards as markers of pride. It was said that the only accomplishment that might ever be more wondrous than connecting the oceans would be a flight to the moon, and since that was impossible, the digging of the canal would be the pinnacle of human marvel.
But I had regretted my descent into the cut almost immediately. On the observation deck, it seemed like I’d dropped into Hades. Another hundred yards past the woman, the dig had exposed pyrite on the hillside. Tropical sun and moist atmosphere exacerbated the oxidation process, heating a narrow patch of ground the length of dozens of railcars. Blue smoke, rotten with the smell of sulfur dioxide, rose from fractures, adding to the haze of heavy clouds of soft coal dust that hung over all the machinery.
The woman, it seemed, wanted to get closer to the pyrite out of curiosity or idle boredom, both dangerous prospects.
I did not like where I was. It had taken my exile years to appreciate that I preferred the solitude of canyons and mud flats where rivers cut through badlands. Horses were my choice, not machines. And yet here, stretched as far as I could see in both directions along the chasm, were the biggest machines in the world. Modern miracles. Steam shovels with buckets capable of filling a flatbed train with two scoops. Beginning at the top, these monstrosities had cut a widening gap, turning each of the opposing sides of the valley into sets of massive steps, with a series of parallel tracks on each level, the flatcars supplicant for their loads of dirt, ready to follow the belching locomotives.
I missed the soft haunting sounds of coyotes and owls and mourning doves, the snort of a startled deer. Before Sharps shooters had massacred the buffalo, the thunder of moving herds might have been an apt comparison to the deep rumble of the steam shovels below me, but now the screech of steel wheels against steel tracks was like bone grating against bone, and the hillside shrieked in protest as the steam shovels tore at its flesh. House-sized boulders tumbled into the shallow black water collecting at the lowest point of the cut.
Intense tropical heat induced the sweat that soaked my shirt and hatband. I missed my arid badlands.
A few hundred yards away, the woman kept picking her way toward the burning ground and the blue sulfurous smoke. What was she seeking? A souvenir?
I took a half step. Perhaps I should chase after her. Then, as my front foot touched down, it came.
A rock-heaving blast of epic proportions.

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Saffire: A Novel 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
LynnLD More than 1 year ago
Saffire, a historical fiction work, takes place during the building of the Panama Canal on 1909. James Holt from the US Dakotas is on a secret mission as he tries to see what other countries might be interfering with the canal’s successful completion. Holt meets a young girl named Saffire who is about the age of his daughter, Winona. She asks for his help in finding out what really happened to her mother who left the country suddenly. This takes James Holt on a series of strange and twisted turns as he almost loses his life while being caught up in a love triangle, a planned revolution and espionage. Quite interesting!
KittyTheVicariousBookworm More than 1 year ago
The world building was well done enough that I had no trouble jumping into 1909 Panama. Where this novel truly shines is in the character building. There are a few characters I have trouble understanding but they are minor characters from a culture and time very different from my own. The characters who spend the most time in the forefront are so well developed that I could easily see them in existence, though this is a work of fiction and many of them likely don’t exist. The story is very drawn out, making this a slow read for me. Even around half way through, the story hadn’t quite picked up into the storyline promised in the blurb. It was difficult for me to be interested in finishing this book because it feels as though additional questions are forthcoming while any answers are drawn out or withheld entirely. I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for this honest review. For this review and more, please visit my blog at
bjdoureaux More than 1 year ago
In the American Zone of the Panama Canal, James Holt, a rancher from the Dakotas, meets a young mulatto girl named Saffire. He soon finds himself in a position of helping this girl, but that’s not why he’s in Panama. His visit is a formality in answer to a favor from an old colleague, who just happens to be the President of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt. Holt ends up staying for the girl, but his questions draw unwanted attention, and his life could be in danger. This book was not what I was expecting. It started off great, with our mildly flawed hero, Holt, meeting a feisty young Saffire. Holt’s adventures through Panama are entertaining and suspenseful at the start, but I found that the story slowed as it went on. I think part of the reason was a loss of interest for me as the story turned more political in nature. Saffire’s story takes a back seat as other information comes to light, and just as I found my attention being captured again toward the end, the story was over. The wrapup of the ending seemed abrupt. The book is marketed as Christian fiction, and there are a couple of mentions of God and a brief mention of faith, but there’s no general Christian theme. The writing was good, but I was a bit disappointed in the story. Though this may be a good read for you if you have any interest in the building of the Panama Canal. I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is full of history and very interesting, written in a way that's easy to follow, at first it's a bit slow and not to interesting for a person like myself. History, murder, love you name it. Just when I start to say "who cares-gets on with it" he does and then it's none stop all the way. Not my usual read, however it is just what my husband loves so I gifted it to him. The author has a good style of writing, once he gets going, lots of history and stuff that makes it very exciting to read to the end.
Lane_Hill_House More than 1 year ago
Tuesday, September 13, 2016 Saffire by Sigmund Brouwer, © 2016 This is a work of fiction. Apart from well-known people, events, and locales that figure into the narrative, all names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author's imagination and are used fictitiously. --The publisher. a historical mystery I so enjoyed Thief of Glory written by this author, that I looked forward to reading this novel, Saffire. He writes with truisms ~ a self-evident, obvious truth. Truth evident in the ruins. the east-west passage between two oceans 1909 A simple helping someone becomes the focus of his character, James Holt. Drawn in simply to help ~ turns his life around beyond what he could have ever imagined his life would become. The Panama Canal Mystery I like how Sigmund Brouwer writes like he is divulging a secret to you as if you are sitting in a room of people silently and he has chosen you to share his confidences with. You are privy to information only shared by his antagonist in strictest confidence. Along with the three men in the closed room, chapter six will reveal an outline of intent that will change everything known. You look up and everyone else continues to expand their day, walking about, talking, so unaware of what is actually happening. For it is actual and the room closes back in as you listen. You have one question in the back of your mind. Will Saffire still be hanging around waiting for James Holt's exit? For there is contact, lest the title be obscure ~ which you are certain it will not be. Saffire with no p and no h but just as brilliant and standing out without a word. "Your secret is safe with me. I have no one to tell and I'll be gone tomorrow." --Saffire, 147. Everyone came with the same intent ~ to fill their coffers. Everyone hoped to leave different than they came; possibly not within their own realm of expectation. I liked the historical descriptions throughout ~ educational, along with the intrigue of the story. ***Thank you, Blogging for Books, for sending me a copy of Sigmund Brouwer's Saffire to review. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***
Virginiaw More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the story. I have never read anything that had to do with the Panama Canal so those details were interesting. I really liked the Saffire character and James Holt. It wa interesting how they interacted. I would not have liked to be in that area during those years with all the sicknesses and revolts going on. It was fun to learn who James is helping and bits and pieces about his daughter. I received a copy of this book from blogging for books for a fair and honest opinion.
VillaSyl More than 1 year ago
Set in Panama in 1909, Saffire has a tale of intrigue, a touch of romance, and grounded in historical accuracy. James Holt, who was a member of Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders and Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, is asked to investigate the sabotage at the Panama Canal construction site, Holt finds conspiracies and collusions far darker than even President Roosevelt imagined. While Panamanian revolutionaries attempt to wrench control of the canal from the U.S., white American Holt becomes more concerned with Saffire, a young mixed-race girl as she goes out in search for her mother who mysteriously disappears. James and Saffire are drawn into a world of pirates, gold runners, plantations, deceit, intrigue, romance, and revolutionary politics. Saffire has everything you could want in a novel. Fans of historical fiction will like this story. From the fascinating amount of information contained about the building of the canal; to the great history lesson about the first attempt by the French to build the canal and how the U.S. then came to complete it. The tragedy of the deaths of workers, the ramifications of Panama winning independence from Columbia, and much more that rounds out the mystery. I enjoyed the story and I recommend getting in your favorite chair, have your favorite drink ready, and enjoy the mix of history and a good story. I received a copy of this novel through Blogging for Books in exchange for my review.
Jutzie More than 1 year ago
Saffire by Sigmund Brouwer This story is told from the single point of view of James Holt. A rancher who has traveled to the American Zone of the Panama Canal. It's 1909 and not everyone is happy about the Americans being in Panama. The class difference is quite obvious and not many care about the young mulatto girl. Well, some people care. Her mother has supposedly left the country to marry an American but Saffire does not believe her mother would leave her. She goes weekly to state her case to the man in charge. The man in charge wants the girl appeased so she leaves him alone. And James Holt finds he cares as well. He just didn't realize how much danger that caring would get him into. This story is a mix of fiction and historical facts. Real historical figures are weaved within this tale of intrigue, danger, and a touch of romance. I like the way the author weaves humor and sarcasm into James' character. This is a real page turner and even though it's not the usual type of romance I read, it was very enjoyable. **Received from WaterBrook for an honest review
gccbookworm More than 1 year ago
Political Intrigue James Holt, a rancher from Dakota, is summons to the American Zone of the Panama Canal in 1909 in Sigmund Brouwer's latest historical novel, Saffire. This novel is part mystery, part political intrigue, and romance all in the historical setting of Panama. James Holt's dry humor and Inspector Miskimon, who is quite orderly, provide interesting conversations throughout the novel as Holt tries to unravel the mysterious disappearance of a young girl's mother. Saffire is close in age to his own daughter and her spunkiness at finding her mother endears her to him. But as he begins to ask questions he realizes there is more going on below the surface than a missing woman. This book started out slowly and I almost stopped reading it, however, the more I kept going, the more drawn into the story I became. Brouwer uses actual historical figures and places in this novel making for an interesting read. I received this book for free to review from WaterBrook's Blogging for Books.