Book Reviews: Patagonian Prey Picnic, Or Love And Death In Gondolin

November 3, 2022




Golden Prey by John Sandford

Patagonia by Maya Fowler

No Picnic On Mount Kenya by Felice Benuzzi

Love Story by Karen Kingsbury

The Fall of Gondolin by JRR Tolkien

Death Cup by Irna van Zyl


The most famous sleuth of them all must be Sherlock Holmes. But Lucas Davenport follows close in his footsteps with Simon Templar (remember the Saint?) and Double-Oh-Seven, as a modern homicide hunter in the US Marshal squad. Lucas takes on high profile criminals who, as a rule, don’t end up in court but rather six feet below. The first law of survival in Lucas’ notebook is, ‘shoot first’. Brace yourself for extreme cruelty as drug cartel operators go out to punish a defector who gets away with a huge pile of cash. As happens in crime investigation, the hunter becomes the hunted and Lucas gets the help of two other marshals to form a team not to be taken lightly. Golden Prey  is good reading, always entertaining and leaving you uncertain about the next move. Get this book and get to know Lucas. You won’t be sorry. – DB


Patagonia begins in contemporary South Africa with an Afrikaner academic, Tertius de Klerk, whose career is on the wane and whose marriage to a talented musician is equally under strain. In a spasm of despair, he becomes embroiled with a female student, faces the horrors of exposure on social networks, acts impulsively and then flees in terror. He flees to South America, to Patagonia, following the trail of his Boer ancestor Basjan, who had escaped what he could not face at the end of the Anglo-Boer War. Here we have interleaved accounts of Basjan, leaving behind his treacherous past, but followed by the woman whom he had impregnated, and Tertius, followed doggedly by his extraordinary wife. The accounts are of journeys in very different days: Boers going by ship and trekking through vast areas on horseback, with only the vaguest of promises, and 21st Century Afrikaners travelling by air, by bus and in dubious vehicles, with equal uncertainty. Basjan survives through sheer grit and determination. His wife-to-be surpasses him in her courage and endurance. Tertius is a weak and uncertain figure, dependent on his credit cards, his limited finances and then on the distant cousin whom he eventually meets. Alta is a strong and surprising person, determined to bring Tertius to book. The book is fascinating in its scope, its investigation of the windswept and arid territories it traverses, the strange little colonies of Boer survivors and their adaptation to a different world. It is also rich in the characters who play the principal roles. – RH


First published in the 1950s, this tale of war-time initiative, adventure and derring-do remains a satisfying read, not least because the extraordinary story told is true. The author was an Italian soldier held in POW Camp 354 in Nanyuki in Kenya. Along with two compatriots, he, on catching sight of the snowbound peak of Mt Kenya in 1942, hatched a frankly daft plan to break out of the camp, climb the mountain and then return to camp (permanent escape being judged to risky an undertaking). Benuzzi’s recall of his team’s preparations for the climb and the gruelling process of making it up the mountain – incredibly difficult now, with high-tech modern equipment; near-suicidal with the resources available to this band of prisoners – makes for filmic descriptions of a truly stirring adventure. No Picnic On Mount Kenya underlines that sort of cheerful stoicism that is a touchpoint of many World War Two stories, where incredibly galling circumstances are handled with such apparently effortless valour that you’d think that those involved were dealing with nothing more serious than a cheeky puppy, rather than the mortal danger of facing off against an enemy army (or, indeed, the perils of a treacherous mountain climb). In terms of the adventure aspect of the tale, there are many parallels to this book in contemporary literature, from Ranulph Fiennes to Riaan Manser, but it the combination of that daring with a tense The Great Escape-esque war thriller that has made this story so enduring. Benuzzi and his cohorts claimed, for a brief period, the freedom and ability to (literally) forge their own path denied them by their captors, and the manner in which they do so is entertaining and edifying. – BD


To the many lovers of Karen Kingsbury’s work, Love Story is an exciting new book to add to your collection. Of the 25 books she has written about the Baxter family, this book goes back to the beginning: the love story between John Baxter and Elizabeth (now deceased). However, even if the reader has not read the preceding books, this can be read and enjoyed. Elizabeth had died ten years previously and some years later John had remarried. His current wife is Elaine and they live in Bloomingdale, where a number of John’s six children reside. The story starts with John’s grandson Cole, aged 16. Cole is the illegitimate son of his daughter Ashley, now adopted by Ashley’s husband, Landon. One afternoon, Cole phones John and asks if he can come round. When he and his mum arrive, Cole tells John that his class has a project in history. He needs to answer the questions, where he came from and who he came from. He needs “stories from long ago”. He then produces a photograph of John and Elizabeth with Cole as a baby of two years old. The project requires at least four hours of interviewing. Cole suggests that they meet for an hour a week. John is perplexed. He is now happily married to Elaine while his earlier relationship with Elizabeth had been tumultuous. He does not give Cole an immediate answer. After his grandson leaves, he discusses it with Elaine and decides to go ahead. The story of his early love for Elizabeth is revealed in this book, a romance between two very young people. She had come from a strict background, but they unfortunately had fallen pregnant. She had been sent away and John’s attempt to rescue her and the baby was unsuccessful. Kingsbury weaves in various stories about the current family, including Dayne, who was the child of that pregnancy. The book has the usual Kingsbury mark of having a strong underlying Christian message. – MH


Those in society who are advocating for a later retirement age would do well to consider adopting Christopher Tolkien as a compelling mascot. At 93, after a lifetime of intense study and curation of his father’s work, and one year after what was to be the final publication, he completed The Fall of Gondolin, the third tale of Middle Earth, and the one that completes the foundational history for the the beloved works of The Hobbit and the The Lord of the Rings. The book comprises several versions of the tale of Tuor, champion of Ulmo, Lord of Waters, who is destined to play a pivotal and heroic role in the Battle for Gondolin against the ultimate evil of Morgoth. Christopher provides his own explanations, as well as excerpts from letters and other sources to piece together the development of this tale which occurs over many years, in differently nuanced versions. It is a mark of his extraordinary devotion to his father’s writing that he is able to bring all the disparate pieces into an intelligible and harmonious work, evocatively and ably illustrated by Alan Lee. For Tolkien fans, a valuable and unexpected addition to the collection. – KD


Death Cup takes readers down to Hermanus in the Western Cape. Irna van Zyl uses characters and situations familiar to readers in a typical South African scenario. The background of this story deals with food, food lovers  and top of the range  restaurants, competing for a place in a national award-winning  event. This challenge stirs a lot of envy among the contenders and ends in attacks and murders. The Death Cup, a poisonous species of mushroom, is used to eliminate favoured food establishments. We get to learn a lot about foraging, sea food delicacies, special dishes, the kind of people that favour them and those that make us feel sorry for Detective Storm, who has a serious deadline in her investigation for solving these crimes before the award ceremony happens. The plot introduces a large number of suspects, which gives the end a surprising twist.  Van Zyl has created a story around an unusual ‘menu’ which makes it especially entertaining. – DB