Those in Peril – Wilbur Smith

This is the first Wilbur Smith book I have read in a long time; it’s probably going to be a long time before I repeat the exercise. That may be enough of a review for some of you. For the rest, here are the gory details.

Hector Cross, ex-SAS soldier, has his own security business which supplies services to major oil company Bannock Oil. However, Henry Bannock has died, and his widow Hazel is flexing her muscles by reviewing all the company’s existing arrangements. Despite her skepticism, Cross wins her over, and becomes the key player in a desperate bid to find her daughter Cayla, kidnapped by Somalian pirates.

So, the setting for the book is action by Cross and his mercenary resources against the pirate leader. (To avoid disclosing plot details, you will appreciate that is a necessarily brief summary.)

Therefore, there are action sequences aplenty, on land, on sea, and even in the air. It’s the action parts that Smith handles well. He knows his hardware, and he knows how to keep the suspense going. When there are guns firing and knives slashing, Smith is very, very good.

Similarly, Smith has clearly done a lot of research about the activities of modern day pirates, and he crams that research into the book with considerable skill.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of places where he seems to overstep the need to inform and entertain, by popping in a bit of pornography. Now, I am no prude, but I was puzzled by the graphic description of the sex scenes that introduce us to Cayla. Neither am I an  apologist for Islamic extremists, but I found it difficult to justify the depiction of the pirate leader – Adam Tippoo Tip – as a pedophile rapist. It’s almost as if the author felt his readers didn’t have enough reasons to dislike the baddie. And this comes on top of a graphic description of the same character sexually abusing the captive Cayla. I will spare you the details; I wish Smith had.

The main characters are, unfortunately, shallow in the extreme. Cross is Smith’s super hero alter ego. Brave, resolute, loyal, and deadly in combat. What more could you ask for? (There are a crew of trusty macho assistants, many of whom would have done sterling jobs as part of Captain Kirk’s landing parties in Star Trek. Included in that lot is the token ‘good native’, to offset the ‘turncoat native’.) Hazel Bannock is the hard nosed trophy wife who rises above it all as a widow to find true love. Cayla is a spoiled rich girl.  Adam Tippoo Tip is a sadistic, pedophile  living in comfort in his desert fortress while his minions do his bidding. And so on, and so on.

And if that were not bad enough, the final act of this book involves an unsavory message about justice, that is naked fascism. In short: might makes right.

The tragedy here is that Smith can undoubtedly write. And there is an interesting story to be told with these characters. But the characters needed some more work on them, and the author needed an editor who could cut out the gratuitous pornography, and replace it with some more down to earth human elements. As it stands it’s a book that portrays a variation of the Expendables world, with no more class and poise. In other words, Smith should have done better.

I cannot recommend this book for people other than, er, die-hard Wilbur Smith fans. It has no depth, nothing new, and not enough by way of redeemable contents to make it worth your time to read it.