The brilliant debut action adventure thriller by Antony Dunford, shortlisted for the 2019 UEA Crime Writing Prize and longlisted for the 2020 Grindstone Literary Novel prize
This novel opens with an extraordinary (but ordinary to her) evening in the life of Jane Haven, an ex-special forces soldier who has come to Kenya to help her brother Ken guard Northern White rhinos on a conservatory. The first few pages delve into the atmosphere within the fences as well as the wider Kenyan culture and Jane’s character. It does this so well that reading along, I really wasn’t thinking much about what might come next, I was just enjoying the story. It could have been a romance novel and I wouldn’t have cared!
But then, slowly, you get the creeping feeling that there’s danger here, a drone being used to scan the perimeter, a still smoking fire where no one should be, and Jane’s growing vigilance. Then just as it seems as if this is all for show the story explodes wide open.
Without giving too much away, there’s murder, mystery and injustice but also the peril of Jane being a suspect to a crime the reader knows she didn’t commit.
To solve the crime, save herself and make sure the culprits are apprehended Jane takes off as both the detective and the defendant. Having the hero be a white woman in Kenya could be a call fraught with cringeworthy moments but the author pulls it off sensitively giving agency to both Jane and the people she pursues.
On her mission, the author takes us through a twisting maze of possibilities and leads, but where this book stands out as different from other crimes novels is the way the author has so expertly woven together the conclusion to fit the eco-thriller genre. It could have been a simple murder mystery set in Kenya, but the ending is both pragmatic and insightful.
Towards the end, I was getting the same kind of feels as I had at the end of the Constant Gardener. It’s a sad story about the unfairness of the world and the selfishness that propagates this. It’s also about how a sense of entitlement can have huge repercussions on the environment and the people who live in it, namely us.
Finishing the book, three things stuck out in my mind – firstly, this would make a great audio book, the writing is well paced and feels made to be read aloud. Secondly, the characters in the story are not just the humans, the animals are also portrayed to show their individual characteristics which will make any reader care about their fate just as much as the humans, if not more. Lastly, as I already mentioned the story is a perfect example of what an eco-thriller can be. Yes, it’s exciting to read but also persuasive and enlightening. I seriously know nothing about Kenya or poaching or conservatories, but I feel like I have a better insight now.
Thanks to the author and Hobeck Books for an advance copy of this brilliant read!