Kirkus Star


Email this review


In the mid-1930s a tiny band of English patrol officers arrive in New Guinea and set off into the bush to civilize numberless tribes of headhunters and cannibals, to bring God and British law to the Stone Age. The result is a virile, riveting first novel featuring young Michael O'Loughlin, who arrives at the Empire's scrap of a headquarters, accompanies his commander to a hanging of five bewildered headhunters, and then sets out on a wide tour of the jungle tribes to explain to them why such practices are evil. By a kind of clairvoyance each tribe knows all about him before he arrives. And the new code that O'Loughlin is imposing (it's hoped that the natives will be civilized within two generations?) constantly comes up against tribal custom--though he is helped mightily by Imago, a sage native policeman. Death is seldom far off or avoidable when O'Loughlin's decisions must be enforced, and his personal responsibility is a great weight. What's more, he's constantly fighting malaria and dysentery. His worst case: a mad native who has chopped six people to death but according to British law cannot be executed (because he is mad) and so must serve a life sentence in a prisonless village among people who have no idea why the killer is allowed to live. The novel's last episodes fly quickly, covering the Japanese occupation of the island and British and native resistance; and there's a final tragic vignette 20 years later when O'Loughlin returns as a U.N. observer and is kidnapped by native terrorists led by Imago's rebellious Marxist son. Crisp, rounded characterizations, splendid evocations of jungle scenes and sounds (descriptions reminiscent of D. H. Lawrence)--a fine, tough, action-adventure debut.

Pub Date: March 17th, 1980
Publisher: McGraw-Hill