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by Mark Lee

Pub Date: May 9th, 2003
ISBN: 1-56512-379-4
Publisher: Algonquin

Second-novelist Lee (The Lost Tribe, 1998) spans three continents, mixing high-stakes suspense with erotic intrigue.

American news photographer and narrator Nicky Bettencourt is losing his edge, so his London boss at Newsweek hooks him up with the formidable US journalist Daniel McFarland. Daniel is about to leave his farmhouse outside Rome for Uganda, in hopes of tracking down the Reverend Okello, a self-styled prophet who has kidnapped tourists from a game park (yes, that really happened). The apprehensive photographer soon bonds with the fearless journalist, and they fly to a Ugandan refugee camp run by the British doctor Julia Cadell and financed by her lover, the billionaire banker Richard Seaton. Outraging Julia, Daniel bribes a child, a traumatized victim of Okello’s, to guide them to the prophet—anything for the story. But despite the dangers, he gets his interview, miraculously survives the crash of his Cessna, and loses his hard professional shell while recovering at an AIDS mission. All this is fine: a gripping storyline, rich with detail, shaped by a traveler who has talked the talk and walked the walk. Then the action shifts to Seaton’s English castle, where Daniel persuades the no longer outraged Julia to bolt (Nicky is the faithful witness). At the narrative’s still center, the new lovers shut out the world and enjoy a long idyll in their London hideaway—passages that call for a lyric intensity Lee can’t manage, and the story sags. It picks up again in the final section, where Lee re-creates another headline-grabber: the carnage attending East Timor’s independence. Julia has improbably agreed to run another of Seaton’s refugee camps there, and he and Daniel are both on hand, but the untangling of this three-way lovers’ knot is overshadowed by the real-world agony of the Timorese.

Journalist Lee (Atlantic Monthly, Los Angeles Times, etc.) uses his foreign correspondent experience impressively. Once he matches that with well-developed characters, we’ll be looking at a major talent.