An exciting novel about terrorists, movie stars, billionaires and wild animals.
Jeremy Bates’ second novel zooms from continent to continent, amid explosions, murders, kidnappings and terrorist training camps. Scarlett Cox, one of the world’s most famous actresses, and Sal Brazza, her hotel-magnate husband, try to salvage their fraying marriage by embarking on an African photo safari. Scarlett suffers from migraines and the inability to trust her philandering, arrogant husband. Sal’s concerns have more to do with the mysterious fire in his new Dubai luxury hotel, most likely an attempt on his life. Damien Fitzgerald, an aging Irish assassin targeting Sal, follows the couple to Africa; he’s enthusiastically leaving a trail of bodies behind him. After Scarlett and Sal are robbed in a random crime, they visit the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam at the same time that Al Qaeda—specifically, the British-born Jahja al-Ahmad—bombs the embassy and takes a group of hostages, including Scarlett, Sal and Thunder, the friendly Australian whom Scarlett has a crush on. Thankfully, Bates adeptly manages the different threads of this potentially confusing story. Unfortunately, though, the characters are razor thin, only serving the purpose of moving the complex story forward. Before the attack and kidnapping, Scarlett’s thoughts seem to revolve around her husband and some fine lines around her eyes. She never ponders her career, family—anything remotely personal. Sal becomes a stock evil billionaire ready to torture an old man for information and start a fistfight with a dying fellow hostage. Long stretches of back story and exposition are awkwardly inserted into the text, and Bates is often too obvious about some of his characters’ concerns. For example, after Scarlett is kidnapped, she ruminates, “You never in a thousand years thought it would happen to you.…It was part of a different world. Even now that she had been thrown headfirst into that different world and was experiencing it all first hand, she still had a difficult time internalizing it.” When Bates stays away from unnecessary exposition, the exciting narrative can be very satisfying—until the ending, which features an unlikely, overwhelming maelstrom of blood, violence, leopards, rebels, machetes and a nearly comic chain of bloody misfortune.
A flawed novel that still thrills.