Top critical review
12 people found this helpful
Another day at the office
on 29 April 2010
Back in the mid to late seventies when I was a young teen, a friend of mine persuaded me to put down the James Bond books and pick up 'Shout at the Devil' by Wilbur Smith. We spent the next two years nicking them off our parents, hunting them down in bric a brac shops and bartering, lending and swapping grubby and battered 'Smith's' in the playground. 'When the lion feeds', 'A sparrow falls', 'The dark of the sun', 'Sunbird' and more, all transported a couple of lads from rural Somerset to the plains of Africa. Action, adventure, sex and the exotic and untamed wilds of the dark continent! We couldn't get enough of them.
Now thirty years on I am afraid the magic has pretty much evaporated in the heat of the Sahara sun! Is this because Smith's powers have waned or I am now an old, haggered, cynical and miserable old git! Well I suspect a bit of both.
This book actually starts quite well, a battle, a daring escape and a court martial all in the first 100 pages or so. However then it seemed Smith just seemed to switch into auto pilot mode. The action became predictable, the dialogue absolutely terrible and there a couple of hundred pages of big game hunting. There is often a bit of this, it's never really done it for me. I've never quite understood the 'Wow what a fantastic beast, let's shoot it and skin it!'
Just as I was thinking of putting it down, the plot picked up with a bit of pre WWI intrigue. The hero (A Courtney) is persuaded to use his Big Game hunter status as cover to spy on the German activity in East Africa, whilst Germany sends Count Otto Von Meerbach into action to spy and stir up trouble on British East Africa. He is accompanied by his enigmatic mistress Eva. As the sexual tensions build between Courtney and Eva, Otto goads Courtney into ever more reckless hunting feats and as the political stakes ramp up! Things start to shape up nicely!
But then Smith drops the ball! The inevitable love affair when it begins is sickly sweet and cliched. Von Meerbach morphs into a cross between Goldfinger and the Terminator! and rather than an in depth look at the conflict between the British and German factors, which is something that would really have interested me, Smith instead opts for a James Bond movie climax on a giant airship.
Last grumble, why does pretty much every Wilbur Smith book have to feature a Courtney? why not a Benson, a Frampton or something? The original Sean Courtney was a fully realised and great charactor but why make the hero of every subsequent story an ancestor or heir of him. Is it possible every male generation of a single family is a super human, brave, beautiful natural leader of men blessed with the luck of the Gods? It does irk me!
In summary the book has some good bits and devotees of WS will no doubt enjoy it. Readers new to Smith would do much better to delve deeper into his back catalogue and work forwards.