Sunday, February 12, 2023

The Lioness

 The Lioness (2022) by Chris Bohjalian (rec by Aubrey Nye Hamilton for the 12 Challenge)

It's 1964 and Katie Barstow is the current reigning queen of Hollywood. Her films are box office gold--even when she does a controversial film with Terrance Dutton, a black man, as her leading man. The steamy love scene was left on the cutting room floor because the American public wasn't quite ready for that kind of romance, but the implications were there (and a number weren't ready for even the implication...). When Katie marries David Hill, her brother's best friend from their early days in New York, there is all the glamor of a Hollywood wedding followed by a Paris honeymoon. But the celebration is extend to an African safari with her brother Billy and his wife Margie, her best friend and fellow actress Carmen Tedesco and her husband screenwriter Felix Demeter, Terrance Dutton, Katie's publicist Reggie Stout, and her agent Peter Merrick. 

After three idyllic days of photo safari adventures by day and evenings with their civilized canvas baths and gin & tonics with ice from the portable, kerosene-powered ice makers, their civilized adventure comes to an end. The American entourage is taken hostage by violent Russian mercenaries who have no qualms about killing anyone--from the elderly African guide who tries to save them to those who just seem to irritate the trigger-happy kidnappers. They realize they're being used as pawns in a much bigger game--after all Russia is trying to gain a foothold on the continent and has been backing some of the uprisings in neighboring countries. But what exactly do these men want and will the lives of their hostages be valued enough to ensure they get it? Between the dangers of the four-legged wild animals of the Serengeti and the two-legged human predators, how many of Katie Barstow's party--if any--will survive?

An absolutely beautifully written bloodbath. So many unnecessary violent deaths--so many. Generally speaking this type of book is not my type of book. I'm a Golden Age, every murder is a puzzle and "there's a discernable meaning/motive for each death" kind of girl. Not much into Russian terrorists and killing just because someone asked one question too many (some of the time, just one question is too many). BUT Bohjalian can write. Man, can he write. I was sucked right in from the beginning and even the high body count couldn't keep me from turning the pages to find out what happened next. I'm no expert on Africa of the 1960s, but the historical research seems solid and information about the time is introduced in such a way that it never felt like an info dump. The narrative also makes clear that Bohjalian participated in an African safari himself--the scenery and animals come vividly to life on the page. He also manages the multiple points of view superbly. Each chapter focuses on one of nine characters, giving the reader a panoramic view of the story to match the vast countryside. Overall, an outstanding experience. Thanks to Aubrey for recommending this for the 12 Challenge. 

Spoiler!! Do not read if you have not read the book:

My only quibble with the book: I was really upset that neither Terrance nor Reggie survived. Honest-to-goodness after letting them get that close, did we really have to kill them off too?

First line: Oh, I can't speak for the dead.

Blame, I can tell you firsthand, is every bit as subjective as truth. (p. 3)

Lying, he understood, was a reflex of his, and he supposed this was what made him a writer. (p. 72)

Last lines: And it was only yesterday, wasn't it? Wasn't it?


Deaths = 19 (one heart attack; twelve shot; one car accident; one killed by leopard; one fell from height; two bled to death; one snakebite)


Aubrey Hamilton said...

So glad you enjoyed it! It is indeed astonishingly bloody, however. Gore aside, I was most struck by the authenticity of the scenery. It is clear he did his research.

Carol said...

I loved how you described it as a "beautifully written bloodbath." I think I'll pass on the book though. It sounds like a bit too much for me.