Review

Orinoco
by James A. Ciullo (Venezuela 1969-71)
Five Star Publisher
June 2007
374 pages
$25.95

Reviewed by Ken Hill (Turkey 1965–67)

    THREE HARD-DRINKING, macho Peace Corps Volunteers nearing completion of their service in Venezuela conspire to steal and sell Nazi treasures stashed at a warehouse in a city on the Orinoco River in Venezuela. The conspiracy includes some Venezuelan friends and an incidental female PCV to facilitate the adventure . . . and add a touch of sex interest.
         To legitimize the heist, the proceeds — at least a few of them — are intended to provide a continuous and reliable resource to sustain a project of one of the PCVs.
         Years later, the primary character becomes a candidate for Senate and the Nazi treasure escapade comes home to roost — or does it? The candidate’s policy positions are adverse to some powerful interests which will do whatever necessary to take him out of the race. The plot . . . thickens?
         Dedicated “To All those who have served in the Peace Corps”, Orinoco is, of course, by no means a Peace Corps story. Peace Corps is used as a point of interest, essentially irrelevant to the story.
         A contemporary mystery / adventure / spy story wannabe, Orinoco pulls the reader through a labyrinth of adventures, subplots, twists and turns — a few interesting, fewer exciting, but mostly plodding. The book struggles for a plot to successfully carry the reader through 374 pages (64 chapters plus the Epilogue). The last fourth of the book generates some mystery and interest, but almost too late to justify the few hours required to read that far.
         For me, the recipe for interesting and exciting fiction worth reading includes not only time juxtaposition in the story but lots of plot and character development. Descriptive writing free of the “trash” effect and some level of believability are requisites to good adventure fiction.
         Orinoco, suffers from hackneyed phrases and contrived, predictable situations. It does generate sufficient interest to give hope that Mr. Cuillo’s next effort may get there. I may read Mr. Cuillo’s next book, just to see if it rises above Orinoco. But you can bet I won’t pay the jacket price!

    After his Peace Corps service in Turkey, Ken Hill was a staff member who left the Peace Corps in 1975 to pursue personal business interests. In the mid-90s he and his wife Winnie (Nepal 1966–68) returned to Peace Corps where Ken was Country Director first for the Russian Far East, then Bulgaria and Macedonia. In 1999 he became Chief of Operations for Peace Corps programs in Europe and Asia and was appointed Chief of Staff of Peace Corps during 2001. Now retired, Ken is engaged in numerous volunteer and political activities. He is active in local and Virginia politics, on the Boards of the Bulgarian-American Society and the Friends of Turkey and chairs the Alexandria, Virginia Sister Cities Committee with Gyumri, Armenia. He is a former Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Peace Corps Association.