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THE LAST HERO by Peter Forbath Kirkus Star



Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1988
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Grand adventure in the name of Empire as Forbath (a novel, Seven Seasons, 1971; The River Congo, 1977; with William Colby, Honorable Men: My Life in the CIA, 1978) returns to the Congo and central Africa in a novel built upon the great explorer Henry Morton Stanley's last expedition. In 1885, Khartoum falls and Anglo-Egyptian control of the Sudan is lost to the fanatical Sufi warriors of El Mahdi, a self-proclaimed Moslem messiah. When word reaches England that the inaccessible territory of Equatoria still holds out, besieged, under the Governorship of the mysterious Emin Pasha (a German-Jewish doctor converted to Islam), a relief expedition sets out under Stanley, the greatest African explorer of his day. Against all advice, Stanley chooses a route through the deadly, unexplored Ituri Forest, determined to add another first to his reputation. Contact with Emin Pasha isn't made until late in this 700-page novel: the bulk of the book is concerned with giving us Africa as Europeans experienced it a hundred years ago, portraits of the men to whom it was a personal challenge (assumptions of European superiority here--necessary to verisimilitude--may rankle some), and the steadily fraying expedition's struggles with disease, desertion, starvation, madness, and cannibalism. Momentum falters and the material thins toward the end--we never really get to know Emin--and there's some overwrought stuff about hashish and harems, but, still, this is head and shoulders above most adventure fiction in style, substance, and historicity. With its fine young viewpoint character, Stanley's aide-de-camp, Forbath's story has the makings of a perennial boys' favorite, a book to sit on the shelf alongside Dana, Burroughs, and Haggard.