Monday, January 14, 2013
Those in Peril by Wilbur Smith
Sometimes I find there are reviews I don't want to write. This is one of them. This is usually because I didn't like a book, and this case is no different. I should explain. I've been reading Wilbur Smith for years. I think I've read all of his books, except for Assegai, and I do have a copy of that, but it's lost somewhere on Mount Toberead.
Those in Peril interested me because it didn't appear to be part of the Ballantyne or Courtney historical family dramas that Smith has been doing for many years now, and it wasn't part of his other Egyptian Warlock series (oh, I couldn't get through the last of those, if I want badly written fantasy I'll go to an actual fantasy writer. Most of David Eddings work immediately springs to mind). Some of Smith's best work in my opinion has been his standalone books, although the early Courtney and Ballantyne books were quite good, especially The Lion Feeds, which started it all.
If you've never read Wilbur Smith before there are a few things you need to know about his writing. Most, if not all, of any book he writes will be set in Africa. He's a South African and he loves the continent, he's also quite knowledgeable about it. His dialogue often appears stilted. His characters all speak very correct English. He seems to believe abbreviating a word, even in dialogue, by use of the apostrophe is some sort of writing crime. His characters are often quite generic. There will be at least one alpha male, there will be at least one beautiful, but not helpless heroine, she'll usually have fallen in love with the alpha male by the end of the book, but they won't like each other to begin with. The villain will be a seriously nasty piece of work, often physically scarred or deformed and nearly always a sexual deviant.
Why the hell would anyone read these? They sound awful! Funnily enough it often works, well it does for me anyway.
It didn't in Those in Peril. It had all the above faults, but they were taken to a new level in this one. Wilbur Smith is close to 80 and his publisher can be pretty much assured of a good return with anything he publishes. That's the only reason Those in Peril made it out of the slush pile.
The plot, such as it is, is along these lines. Hazel Bannock is the owner of Bannock Oil, a multi national oil business worth many billions of dollars. She is of course beautiful and intelligent, she was also a tennis champion (she won the Australian Open, I must have missed that one). Her only daughter, 19 year old Cayla, is kidnapped from the company yacht by a group of Islamic terrorists/pirates and held to ransom. When the American military either can't or won't help for diplomatic and legal reasons Hazel turns to Hector Cross. Hector is an ex SAS soldier and the owner of CrossBow Security, responsible for guarding Bannock Oil's African oilfields. He's the ultra alpha male and has a score to settle with Cayla's kidnappers. This is pretty standard Wilbur Smith stuff.
Normally I like them, but this one just did everything wrong. There was the dialog, the one dimensional characters who acted in ways that often didn't make sense, but the plot dictated that they do it. Sometimes Smith puts in peripheral characters that make a lot of the rest of it worth reading, but he didn't even do that in Those in Peril. He did try, but it fell flat. If Cayla, (19 years old remember?) referred to Hazel as Mummy one more time I was going to throw up. About the only saving grace was the action sequences, Smith does do those well and they're good to read. I only kept reading to see how he turned it all out, although I knew it would have a HEA and the bad guys would get theirs, it was just a matter of how.
Thank goodness I got this cheap. I would have felt seriously ripped off if I'd paid full price. If you were thinking of reading Wilbur Smith I'd advise to steer clear of Those in Peril. Try Cry Wolf, or The Lion Feeds, even The Sunbird or Shout at the Devil. I'm a little sad that he's come to this. I'm glad I have the memories of his good work.