WARRIOR by Peter Hathaway Capstick


The Legend of Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen
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 In this, the old Africa hand's final book, completed by his wife, Fiona, after his death in 1996, Capstick assembles an admiring and often circuitous biography from the diaries of a lethal and daring soldier of the late British Empire and hunter extraordinaire. As though dictated from an armchair during a long South African evening, Capstick's (The African Adventurers, 1992, etc.) account is anecdotal, repetitive, digression-laden, and composed of hugely elliptical sentences. His insight into his hero's psyche is superficial and often based on Capstick's own predilections. That said, Meinertzhagen's life makes for a ripping good yarn. A child of privilege, he enlisted in the army, landing in British East Africa in 1902 as a young officer in the King's African Rifles. He soon earned fame as a fearless lion hunter, a dedicated soldier who singlehandedly killed scores of restless natives--of the Kikuyu tribe, mainly--and for, of all things, his zeal for ornithology. By WW I, he was fighting in East Africa aginst the Germans and their native allies; as his reputation for ruthless effectiveness grew, so did his quarrels with the British command and his criticism of the Indian troops fighting for the English. His familiarity with the African bush led to a transfer to intelligence, and he served later as a spymaster for Allenby in Palestine. Meinertzhagen seems to have been the Kilroy of the first half of the century: He was present at the Treaty of Versailles; he met Hitler three times in his role as British agent, once carrying a loaded gun with him but failing, to his later regret, to use it; and he tirelessly, in the face of British anti-Semitism, promoted the Zionist cause. He survived shipwrecks, poisoned arrows, airplane crashes, and wild animal attacks, dying in 1967 at age 89. While maddeningly written, with many scattershot and unsupportable observations, not a few firmly in the politically incorrect camp, this is quite a story of one of the last great figures of the colonial age. (7 maps, 10 illustrations)

Pub Date: Feb. 16th, 1998
ISBN: 0-312-18271-6
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1997


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