Adventure story in the Congo

2008-10-02 08:05

LOOSELY structured as an old-fashioned adventure story, this novel - as its somewhat cursory title indicates - is set in a newly-independent Congo, at a time when the country was threatening to descend into political turmoil.

Its plot line is fairly simple. Raised by his grandparents on a farm in the Natal midlands, Donovan “Mac” Mackay is unjustly expelled from school. With few choices left open to him he decides to take a job as a mercenary, working as a guard at a logging camp.

After a crash course in basic military tactics he finds himself pitched into a situation for which he is not particularly well-prepared, up against an enemy who remains largely unseen and who knows the environment much better than he does. Trying to make sense of it all he eventually winds up becoming one of the hunted.

A one-time resident of the midlands himself, author J. A. Dunbar has written a book that contains no big surprises but manages to recreate the violent, topsy-turvy atmosphere of this former Belgian colony at a time when it was one of the biggest news stories in the world.

There are the odd gaps and loose fittings in the storyline itself (I feel, for example, that he could have done more to place his tale in its wider political context) and the novel lacks the vertical take-off it might have benefitted from but, after a slow start, does develop some momentum, particularly during the scenes in which Mac and his colleagues are sent into the jungle to rescue a group of nuns.

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