Continuing Smith’s Courtney family epic (Assegai, 2009, etc.), this novel focuses on big-game hunter Leon and his daughter, Saffron, during the post–World War I era, first on their great Kenya estate, Lusima, and then as they move toward the bloody fray that became World War II.
It’s an action-packed affair beginning in Africa with coltish young Saffron outdoing the boys on horseback, then attacking Saint Moritz’s men-only Cresta Run skeleton-racing course, and ending with her manning a Vickers gun to protect the Greek nation’s gold bullion reserves. The tale regularly shifts to Leon, too, but Saffron’s adventures extend the Courtney legend, including when she falls in love with an "immediate, instinctive, animal passion" worthy of her clan. The attitude throughout is Old World British colonial, as is the dialogue. There’s more than one reference to "the local peasantry." Saffron attends school in South Africa and Oxford. There she makes German friends who will lead to connections regarding her father’s fortune and makes a disconcerting reacquaintance with his old enemies, the von Meerbach dynasty. As this story ends, Saffron is spotted by a mysterious older gentlemen connected to Britain’s Special Operations Executive, while the man who stirred her animal passion is witness to the Babi Yar massacre. Meanwhile, Leon’s been forced to helm the family's Cairo-based business, which is threatened by brother Frank’s worship of Oswald Mosley. With cameo appearances by the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hitler, and Reinhard Heydrich and traveling everyplace from the Ritz in London to a Masai village, the story is wonderfully plotted, woven together by quick but not disconcerting cinematic shifts from scene to scene in a narrative that keeps the pages turning.
Occasionally melodramatic, sometimes grandiloquent; those who liked Wouk’s War and Remembrance will certainly enjoy this Smith saga.