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On the terrace of an elaborate hilltop apartment overlooking a Central American capital, four people sit making polite conversation. The American couple -- an elderly physician and his young wife -- are tourists. Their host, whom they have just met, is a young man of striking good looks and charm. The girl, his mistress, is very young and very beautiful. Sitting there, watching the sunset, the Slades seem to be enjoying the sort of fortunate chance encounter that travelers cherish. But amid the civilities and small talk, the host's casual remark to the American woman proves prophetic: "It's not exactly what you think."
Masterfully -- with the poetic control that has always characterized his work -- Paul Bowles leads the reader beneath the surface of hospitality and luxury into a tortuous maze of human relationships and shifting moods, until what seems at first a merely casual encounter is seen to be one rooted in viciousness and horror.