by Francis King ‧ RELEASE DATE: Nov. 1, 1988
An Englishwoman pluckily travels solo through Africa to learn the truth about her son's ""accidental"" death--in a quest/travelogue/mystery that flirts with (but never really succumbs to) the clichÃ‰s of the journey-into-darkness genre. Ruth St. Just--divorced, middle-aged, owner of a small restaurant--refuses to believe the news about her beloved son Jim, who had recently joined a cult/commune on the African island of Ellampore. Supposedly, Jim died accidentally while diving off a cliff into the sea--but Ruth knows that Jim, terrified of swimming, would never have taken such a dive! So, after frustrating attempts to get action from British officials in London, Ruth sells her restaurant and sets off for the former French colony of Saloum, ""like some anchorite setting off into the desert or some Crusader setting off for the Holy Land."" She's treated kindly by British diplomats in the capital city; there's a boat-journey down the coast in a rare first-class cabin. When Ruth at last reaches the island commune, headed by an imperious woman called ""Mother,"" she is welcomed as a guest. But, sure that a cover-up of Jim's murder has taken place, Ruth remains suspicious of nearly everyone--including a wretched beggar who seems to be following her. And, after finding clues to the commune's possibly hideous secrets (a hypodermic needle, baby-switching, transvestitism), Ruth feels that she herself is in danger. Like Jim, perhaps, she Knows Too Much. The full-twist solution to the mystery here isn't completely convincing or satisfying; it's definitely more suited to a story or novella than a 300-page novel. Still, King (Act of Darkness, Frozen Music, etc.) does a splendid job of maintaining Ruth's stubborn, single-minded viewpoint, while at the same time texturing the obvious, linear plot with page-by-page diversion: vividly smelly cities and boats in fictional Saloum; charming and creepy traveling companions (occasionally Ã¡ la Paul Theroux); and the fascinating, understated commune. So the result, if finally a bit disappointing, is steadily entertaining all along its curious, colorful, undramatic way.
Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1988
Page Count: -
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1988
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