El Dorado Shuffle (Cormorant, 323 pages, $19.95 paper) is Morgan Nyberg's first adult novel. (He won a Governor General's Award for his children's fiction, Galahad Schwartz and the Cockroach Army.) Basically, it is the story of Mac McKnight's quest for an "El Dorado of the spirit". Mac, who has been sousing himself in alcohol since his wife's death, decides he needs a change from Vancouver and takes a teaching job in Esperanza, a small Latin American state. Charlie Davilos, the president, is heavily involved in the drug trafficking that fuels the country's economy. Mac, meanwhile, is involved with one of his students, who happens to be Charlie's daughter. And he's no stranger to drugs either: his only child, Jeff, is a heroin addict, a fact for which Mac feels ultimately responsible. Consequently, it comes as no surprise that he ends up entangled in a scheme to destroy a cocaine warehouse as a way to assuage his guilt.
Mac's attitude throughout his series of misadventures is one of bravado-the false, flippant, wise-cracking kind that masks a deeply wounded soul. He is convinced he's a loser, yet he keeps going, burns in his private hell, but rises from the ashes to make peace with himself.
It is to Nyberg's credit that, as unappealing as he makes Mac's behaviour at times, he has also imbued him with enough energy and charm to keep us travelling with him through his outlandish adventures and lapses into self-pity.