Robert Leslie Fisher’s “Vanilla Republic” is set in the fictitious country of Sembeke, an island off the east coast of Africa, where the hero of the story, Richard Furman, was shipped to teach English as part of the Peace Corps. Richard’s life changed dramatically after the car accident took the lives of his wife and daughter, and he decided to sign up for the Peace Corps and leave his old career behind. The opening scenes of the story find the hero testifying in the inquest into the death of Caroline, his Sembekian girlfriend, who committed suicide. If that wasn’t bad enough, Richard realizes that he knows very little of Caroline’s past, but he is aware of the fact that she was working as a secret agent for the much feared security agency of Sembeke, the ASN. One of her jobs was to spy on the Peace Corps staff; and her past might well have included at least one murder committed by her. While all of that knowledge is not enough to make matters clear to Richard, it is enough to make him fear that he might well be either targeted as the scapegoat for Caroline’s death or simply silenced for the things he does or might know about ASN.
“Vanilla Republic” is an imaginative and suspenseful book. The setting is interesting and exotic enough to draw the reader in, yet realistic and contemporary enough to still sound believable. The world of intrigue and shadowy dealings of all kinds is usually attention-grabbing, and Sembeke with its ASN and the pro-Islamic military regime is no exception to the rule. The inclusion of the Peace Corps volunteers makes the story even more relevant, since I strongly suspect that many of the readers of this genre have at some time fantasized about leaving their current lives and careers behind and staring new ones in some exotic location trying to change the world for the better.
While I enjoyed the book, I found the story sometimes difficult to follow, since it tended to jump around from one setting to another without a clearly defined time- and storyline. At times I wished the author, who is clearly somebody with both extensive experience and fertile imagination, would not try to fit all of his knowledge in one book, since the many issues and avenues he explored became quite confusing at times. My main issue with the book, however, was the perennial bane of self-published books – lack of proofreading, faulty punctuation and a definite need for editing. In spite of that I would recommend “Vanilla Republic” by Robert Leslie Fisher to the lovers of contemporary fiction with the emphasis on the current political events and issues.