Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Given Tony Park’s interest in the animals and people of Africa, one could be pardoned for believing that this will be a story that is centred on lions. After all, they do live in a pride. The comment on the cover, “A lioness will kill to protect her own”, reinforces the lion interpretation. However, it very soon becomes evident that the author places his centre of interest not in lions but in human beings and their activities. In fact, the focus is mostly on one person, on ex-mercenary Sonja Kurtz, who is driven to seek revenge on an abalone diver who has assaulted her daughter, Emma. As it happens the poacher is murdered and Sonja, blamed for the killing, becomes the target of an angry local gangster.
Park maintains the question: was Sonja responsible for the killing? Sonja must flee and, in doing so, leaves a trail of destruction in her wake. It is true to say that she maintains the question because she appears to kill again. This killing is carried out in similar mysterious circumstances. While the focus is switched from Sonja to Emma’s attempts to save her mother, there is always an undecided issue pertaining to whether Sonja has become a cold-blooded killer or, in the face of what seems to be unlikely, that someone else is doing the killing, someone who wants to overturn the rule of law in southern Africa.
Readers are on more comfortable ground when Park produces a story that has well-defined characters i.e., a poacher is a poacher and, therefore a villain There is no suggestion that he has golden qualities and can at any moment be expected to change into a hidden form of true justice. Whether Park is playing around with Sonja’s character seems unlikely as she appears to have little room to move. She is destined to be a rough, untutored individual, happy to live among uneducated individuals who care nothing for the more sophisticated findings their fellows enjoy.
Emma is a more complicated individual than her mother. When Henricks claims: “Soon enough we’ll have visual contact with your daughter. Wu has his own problems with her – she killed one of his drivers in Botswana. He’s got someone on her tail” (219), Sonja does not deny such a statement. When Henricks amplifies his words with: “Shot him in cold blood, in the back of the head” (219), Sonja’s reply is to scoff at the impossibility of the report. We’re left wondering about Emma. Sonja’s reply is so offhanded, we are left puzzled.
Other characters appear in the novel, some of whom are quite strong. Yet no matter how definitive their character, however striking is the scenery, however dramatic is the animal life, they are swept aside by the overwhelming force that is Sonja. She is one of Park’s outstanding figures. We are as mystified by her at the end of the book as we are when we first meet her.
This is not a great book. At times it is maddeningly confusing. A hero who is also a villain takes time to absorb, the careless use of the vernacular in both Dutch and English means a certain tension is always present. It’s as if the reader straddles more than one culture, never feeling completely at ease in one or another.
By Tony Park
ISBN: 978 176098 112 9
$34.99; 352 pp