Espionage lives on lies. You lie while trying to break through your opponent's lies, so how do you know if your source is telling the truth? And do you care? Harry Pendel of Braithwaite & Pendel, tailors to the most powerful men in Panama, has spent his entire adult life lying - harmless lies, to cover up his background, but he's become quite good at creating plausible fictions. Andrew Osnard knows this, and he knows that Harry has squandered his wife's inheritance on a failing rice farm. Who better than Pendel, who has access to the Panamanian power structure, to ferret out information on the fate of the Canal?
The Tailor of Panama is technically a spy novel, but the espionage is secondary to the interpersonal relationships. Osnard is a con man, and though it's obvious to those at the highest levels of the service, they don't care and don't bother to inform those who believe he's a hard working spy. He's so good at telling others what they want to hear that you wonder why he believes the elaborate stories Pendel tells him of the "Silent Opposition," or why he believes that Micky Abraxas, an alcoholic on the verge of suicide, is the leader. Maybe he doesn't believe Harry - and doesn't care. Osnard has no ties to anyone, no family, no friends, and his girlfriend is really just someone he has sex with. Harry, though, has a family - two children and a wife who is slowly descending into the madness of her childhood memories, and two close friends, all of whom face the repercussions of his lies. Eventually, Osnard walks away from the chaos he caused, leaving Harry to pick up the pieces of shattered lives in a broken country.