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Young, decent British diplomat in South Africa: a low-key serio-comic treatment, somewhere between satire and earnest coming-of-age fiction--from the British author of A Breed of Heroes (1981), a soldier's-eye view of the Northern Ireland troubles. Patrick Stubbs, new at the Foreign Office, is dispatched to ""Lower Africa""--to help out at the British Embassy, also to monitor the secret search for Embassy veteran Arthur Whelk (who has disappeared). Once in ""Battenburg,"" however, Patrick finds himself largely preoccupied with Embassy damage-control, problematic romance, and growing political awareness. There are run-ins with officious/foolish colleagues, with seductive Embassy wives, with Distressed British Subjects (""DBSs""). The Ambassador himself is a mishap-prone eccentric--though solid and shrewd underneath the crazy-old-coot manner. Patrick is madly attracted to a permanent Battenburg resident: gorgeous divorcee Joanna, who eventually reciprocates--despite her ongoing relationship with local police chief Jim Rissik, a forceful spokesman for the Lower African status quo. And soon, though he ""had never seriously considered improving the world any more than he had considered improving himself,"" Patrick winds up in the unsought role of political activist: he grows attached to his house-servants, is horrified when his gardener nearly dies because of apartheid health-care; during the visit of a UK cabinet minister, Patrick rages against the brutal crowd-control tactics of Lower African police; and politics ultimately come between him and Joanna. . . though his overall emotional immaturity is also a factor. (""The love of which people spoke so familiarly found no corresponding reality within himself."") Judd works hard to keep this familiar scenario from becoming too simplistic--with a skeptical view of glib do-gooders and a final tragedy caused, accidentally, by anti-government terrorism. (Patrick has been harboring a black activist, the son of beloved housekeeper Sarah.) There's plenty of comedy to lighten the consciousness-raising: career-diplomat foibles, a tad of slapstick, and a final episode that takes Patrick to Las Vegas-like ""Sin City""--where he unintentionally establishes diplomatic ties with the King of Bapuwana, hitherto unrecognized by Britain. But, in comparison to William Boyd's A Good Man in Africa (and other sharp satires), this sturdy variation on the innocent-abroad formula remains subdued, even somber, and more than a little predictable--with intriguing political backgrounds overshadowing a bland, only half-engaging hero.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1985
Publisher: Viking