South Africa's master storyteller Wilbur Smith has been writing his exotic historical sagas for so long that he's in danger of being taken for granted and typecast as an author of adventure stories for and about overgrown boys. But there's a lot more to Smith's books than mere blood, thunder, swash, and buckle. He might not be as thoughtful or as philosophical as Patrick O'Brian, but his stories have a wider geographical and chronological range and lots more action.
Monsoon is the latest chronicle in Smith's Courteney series. In it, Hal Courteney is sent by the East India Trading Company to attack Arab pirates who are harassing trade off the East African coast. He takes three of his four sons, but one of them absconds to Bombay and another is taken prisoner by the Arabs. Although the mission is an eventual success, Hal himself is seriously injured and returns to England. His son Tom becomes the real hero of the story, gallantly rescuing his captured brother from the infidel.
Like his heroes, Smith's prose pulls no punches: "Aboli swung the axe in a wide, flashing arc. It took the man full in the side of his neck, severing it cleanly. His head toppled forward and rolled down his chest, while his trunk stood erect before it slumped to the deck. The air escaped from his lungs in a whistling blast of frothy blood from the open windpipe." It may not be pretty, but it certainly grabs your attention. --Dick Adler [via]