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by Suzanne Arruda
NAL, January 2006
352 pages
ISBN: 0451217489

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It's just after World War I, and Jade del Cameron has come to east Africa on a quest. She's from the American west, seasoned as an ambulance driver in France, and a very self-confident woman. She made a promise to a dying aviator, a promise fueled in part by guilt because she hadn't decided whether or not to marry David before he was shot down. The promise? To find his missing brother and settle the questions about his father's curious death. What makes this such a challenge is the fact that David had no brother.

Her cover in Africa is that of a journalist or reporter, writing articles on various aspects of Africa for a travel magazine. The chapter headings are excerpts from her work, which give insight into what Africa was like at that time.

Jade has letters of introduction, which make her entry into polite society much easier. Some of the people are not quite caricatures, just this side of stereotypes. Still, stereotypes come from somewhere.

There have been some suspicious deaths, not just that of David Worthy's father. The natives believe that a laibon is at work, an evil spirit who has the ability to assume the form of a beast -- in this case, a hyena. Or a lion. Or are there two laibons at work? Jade isn't sure she believes this, but isn't as quick to rule out the possibility as some of her compatriots.

There is, of course, a possible love interest or two for Jade. She is resistant, not just because of guilt about David, but because she isn't at all sure just whom she can trust. This caution is well advised.

Arruda's descriptions of Africa are lovely and honest, truthful about the various layers of society and the realities of life without indoor plumbing and refrigeration. The harsh realities of the economic hardships endured by European settlers are dealt with as well.

Arruda has written an engaging, informative, interesting first novel featuring an adventuresome young woman with guts and a brain in her head. In all likelihood, this is the beginning of a wonderful series for those of us who enjoy a good historical mystery and a strong woman as the main character. I look forward to the next book, and will be passing this around to my friends.

Reviewed by P. J. Coldren, May 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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