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Story of intrigue also examines moral issues

ARMS LIBRARY, Bridge and Main streets, Shelburne Falls. Amherst authors Shirley and Rudy Nelson discuss their book “The Risk of Returning,” followed by a book signing. Their book is both a mystery, involving a father’s disappearance perhaps even murder, and a political thriller illuminating the fearful excesses of Guatamala’s American-supported military dictatorship in the 1980s, says the library, which adds that the authors have made many trips to the country and can speak knowledgably to the political as well as the cultural character of Guatamala then and now. Proceeds from book sales will go toward the library’s roof replacement campaign. Friday, 7 p.m.

ARMS LIBRARY, Bridge and Main streets, Shelburne Falls. Amherst authors Shirley and Rudy Nelson discuss their book “The Risk of Returning,” followed by a book signing. Their book is both a mystery, involving a father’s disappearance perhaps even murder, and a political thriller illuminating the fearful excesses of Guatamala’s American-supported military dictatorship in the 1980s, says the library, which adds that the authors have made many trips to the country and can speak knowledgably to the political as well as the cultural character of Guatamala then and now. Proceeds from book sales will go toward the library’s roof replacement campaign. Friday, 7 p.m.

By TINKY WEISBLAT

“The Risk of Returning” by Shirley and Rudy Nelson (Wipf and Stock, 372 pages, $18)

Shirley and Rudy Nelson of Amherst have created a suspenseful novel with an original premise in “The Risk of Returning.”

The book is set in the 1980s. Hero Ted Peterson is 40 and uneasy in his life. His mother is losing her memory. His marriage is dissolving. His career as an English professor has never really gotten off the ground.

Ted spent his first seven years in Guatemala, where his parents worked as missionaries. His father died in that country, shortly after sending Ted back to the United States to go to school.

While clearing out one of his mother’s closets, the adult Ted comes across a letter his father wrote many years earlier. The letter hints at some mystery about the father’s behavior and perhaps about his death.

To identify and solve this mystery — and perhaps to solve the mystery of his own inability to commit to people and work — Ted returns to the Central American country of his birth.

As the book’s title indicates, his homecoming is not entirely comfortable. He arrives in a country in turmoil. For years Guatemala’s military dictatorship and its security forces have been waging war against Ladino peasants, Mayan Indians, and anyone else who dares to challenge the status quo.

On his first evening, Ted witnesses an abduction outside his hotel room. Students in the Spanish-language-immersion school he attends to regain his speaking skills are not allowed to discuss politics.

Soon Ted makes contact with two people who will change his life. He becomes romantically interested in his Spanish tutor, an American woman who works to help rural dwellers who oppose the government.

He also reunites with his best friend from childhood, who has become a leader of the Mayan population and therefore a target of the government.

Ted is quickly caught up in his friends’ activities —and soon finds himself “of interest” to the government as well. As he tries to stay safe and help those around him, he manages to find out precisely what happened to his father 33 years earlier.

“The Risk of Returning” starts slowly but quickly picks up. Like Ted, the reader learns a lot about Guatemalan politics in 1987 and learns to care about the plight of people in a faraway land. The book is never didactic, however; it cleverly disguises its history lessons as a well-paced story of intrigue.

Shirley and Rudy Nelson have created a rare hybrid: a novel that is also a book of moral philosophy.

Friday talk

The Nelsons will talk about “The Risk of Returning” on Friday, July 25, at 7 p.m. at the Arms Library in Shelburne Falls. Dessert and coffee will be served, and the authors will sign copies of their book for anyone who wishes to purchase it. For further details, contact Maureen Moore at 625-6728.

Tinky Weisblat is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook” and “Pulling Taffy.” She is always looking for new books from Franklin County-related authors to review. If you have a book suggestion, email her at Tinky@TinkyCooks.com. For more information about Tinky, visit her website, www.TinkyCooks.com.

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