Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Tony Park’s novels are well known to most readers of general fiction. His books are usually fast moving narratives that tell an exciting story and introduce characters as efficiently as some of the highly visible, top line writers. His Scent of Fear and Ghosts of the Past were exciting and worthwhile. I’m not so sure about his new book Last Survivor.
I admit from the outset that parts of this soon-to-be-published novel, I can’t take seriously. The prologue is written as a serious and frightening, unfolding, dramatic episode. The reader identifies with the heightened tension, but is tricked. The object in high danger turns out to be a plant…a rare plant but hardly one cited to receive such mock heroic treatment.
The first chapter transports the reader to South Africa and, in particular, to Pretoria, the nation’s capital. In this very important city, a certain activity is in progress. It is a regular meeting of the Pretoria Cycad and Firearms Appreciation Society. I had to re-read to confirm that name. Where, with the exception of the people of the USA who cheerfully and comfortably elect a congruence of Lear and his fool into executive office, will one find ‘cycads’ and ‘firearms’ in the name of an Association? Uneasy with the name of the Society, readers like me become quickly appalled to find the president of this society insists on the honorific My Queen…not Ms President, nothing as mundane as that. Of course, the chapter is written in mock heroic style.
At this point, regular readers of Tony Park are endeavouring to decide if the author has set out to write a farce, or worse, written a serious book but attempted to create something new, or has gone crazy. To compound the confusion, the author fractures one of the basic rules of writing. Never lose control of the point of view. This chapter has multiple viewpoints so confusing that readers must make a conscious effort to stay on top of it. Chapter Two telegraphs that the story is one of drama and danger and intrigue, and leaves the reader with the impression that Thandi, a forthright black woman, might be the lead character. Subsequent events leave that judgment unresolved.
With Chapter Three we move from the restless of the dark into the tranquillity of the light. Tony Park the author is back on his game. Here we have tightly controlled writing, crystal clear direction, and a female character who leads from the front and signals that this chapter is hers. In Chapter Four, action girl Sonja from Chapter Three meets Rod, a plant expert and volunteer in a Museum, who has contacts in a government department and expertise of value to them. It is never in doubt that Sonja and Rod, the volunteer, will end up pursuing the clues that locate the missing cycad. This is standard script for writing intended for the reader’s vicarious pleasure.
The story runs smoothly from one crisis to another and is good reading fare throughout except that members of that association of plant lovers and guns insert themselves into the plot. I can praise Tony Park for his attempt to make his story different, but he’s chosen the wrong vehicle in my view. People past their prime overcoming evil through their skills with guns and solving mysteries in the framework of their knowledge of cycads, don’t ring true for me.
An interesting novel, much of it reminiscent of Tony Park at his best, but weakened by his Association and some sloppy writing in the opening chapters. Some will find my hesitations of little concern. Others will understand where I’m coming from. The potential reader will have to decide on this one.
By Tony Park
$32.99; 416pp – uncorrected proof copy