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AFRICAN QUEST, THE
by Lyn Hamilton
Berkley Prime Crime, January 2002
293 pages
$6.50
ISBN: 0425183130


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Lara McClintoch is leading an "antiques and archeology" tour in Tunisia; this is the brainchild of her ex-husband and business partner (don't ask - we are repeatedly warned not to ask) Clive Swain, now the lover of Lara's best friend, Moira. The first person to die is Rick Reynolds, found dead in the swimming pool of the Auberge du Palmier. The obvious explanation, that he had ignored the numerous signs warning against diving into 3 feet of water, naturally is not the correct explanation, one which involves the use of a croquet mallet.

Rick was a stockbroker who spent much of the tour glued to his cell-phone. "His entire outfit was brand-new, right down to his belt and the carry-on bag at his side: new denim shirt, with the folds still showing, Reeboks so white they hurt my eyes, and a just-purchases khaki jacket."

Lara suspects that Rick stole a gold necklace from Catherine Anderson, a recent widow who thinks that this trip may be far beneath her usual expectations for travel.

Kristi Ellingham dies of smoke inhalation. Lara has mixed feelings about this death. Kristi is a "travel writer for the upscale - dare I say snotty? - First Class magazine.", invited to be a non-paying guest on the tour by Clive. Lara has read Kristi's notes about the tour, and it sounds like the article will be full of gossip and innuendo, and negative at best. However, it isn't good publicity to have one's resident tout die on one.

Lara has found herself an expert guide in Briars Hatley: "a professor of archeology at UCLA, a specialist on the Phoenician period in Tunisia, ... on sabbatical, working at a site on the Gulf of Hammamet." Briars is trying to find a sunken ship, an ancient sunken ship. He is racing against time in the person of Peter Groves, who wants to find the same ship for the (probable) sunken treasure it contains. Peter's ship, the Susannah, is set on fire and one of his crew is severely burned. Then Ron Todd, a diver and student of Briars', dies on a dive and Briars almost dies on the same dive.

As one might expect, Lara has had enough of this tour. She wants Chastity, the obnovious teen-ager, to stop putting the moves on Emile, a suave older antiques dealer on the tour. She wants people to stop lying to her, including the guy back in Montreal with whom she'd been maybe working up to an affair. She wants to know who is killing people, and why.

Woven throughout all of this is another story of treachery and murder. This second story takes place on the boat for which Briars and Peter are searching. There are parallels, but solving one mystery won't solve the other.

Lyn Hamilton is very adept at getting the setting right, giving the reader a real sense of place and time. If you enjoyed The Xibalba Murders, you will almost certainly like The African Quest. I was not happy with the solution(s) to the murders; it was more fortuitous coincidence than I like in a mystery. I'll read Ms. Hamilton again, should I come across another of her books, but I won't search them out.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, January 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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