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by Michael Stanley
Poisoned Pen Press, June 2019
353 pages
ISBN: 1464211671

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Newspaper reporter and protector of the North American wolf Crystal Nguyen came to Minnesota as a young child escaping Vietnam as the Americans abandoned the country. She has become an exceptional competitive cross-country skier, with a fearlessness that is only tempered by her yoga practice in the face of high danger.

Crys is on assignment with National Geographic, exploring the Rhino poaching in South Africa, and searching for her boyfriend, a Rhino researcher who has not been heard from in two months.

This underworld of Rhino poaching thrives on a superstition in Vietnam that the crushed powder of the horn is a medicine. It has become the crack/cocaine of Vietnam. The older people believe in its efficacy and will pay a fortune for it, but young dudes buy it too. It shows their macho. They are titillated by its illegality and its enormous cost.

With the help of some local Rhino farmers, Chrys is taken by helicopter to a site where the conservation officers warn her about the danger, saying they shoot the bastards if they get a chance. The poachers have high-powered weapons as well and know how to use them. Gun fighting ensues, demonstrating how dangerous this assignment is.

But Crys plunges on ahead, despite her complete lack of knowledge of Africa. Michael Stanley (South African writers Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip) is the author of the award winning Detective Kubu police procedural series. Stanley knows the ground well, and we witness Crys's terrifying introductions to the moneymen behind the poaching trade. Jailed as a suspected murderer, Crys manages to escape and get back to civilization.

She must now go to Vietnam to figure out the other side of the trade. Pretending she does not speak Vietnamese, she learns a great deal through listening as the suspects talk with the interpreter, whom she begins to suspect.

From one inescapable situation to the next, this time she is walled up in a building. Of course she figures her way out, and returns to South Africa where she encounters more life-threatening situations. Always calmed by reciting her mantra, Crys goes on, even finding the missing boyfriend.

I love Crys Nguyen, an intrepid environmentalist, quick thinking and fearless. Although tiny, she fights way above her weight. With a bit of karate and a deep commitment to yoga and meditation, she is a young woman after my own heart. I can't wait to see what she gets herself mixed up in next time out.

Susan Hoover is a playwright, independent producer and retired college English teacher. She lives in Nova Scotia.

Reviewed by Susan Hoover, June 2019

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