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Murder on Safari by Peter Riva

Murder on Safari - Peter Riva

Pero Baltazar is a wildlife film producer and this time he is working in northern Kenya, specifically trying to film large raptors and carrion birds. His local expert guide and friend of multiple decades, Mbuno, thinks there may be trouble brewing in the area. When the film crew loses a man in suspicious circumstances, they need to make some decisions and then a hasty exit. Trouble follows them into Tanzania where they are filming large crocodiles with world-renowned crocodile expert Mary. She also happens to be the daughter of a top TV evangelist, Jimmy Threte, and it looks like a terrorist organization may be targeting one or both of them.

This was a pretty interesting book for several reasons. We have the whole setting, which was done pretty well. The author didn’t gloss over the cultural differences, the good, or the bad. Then there is the wildlife, which my inner biologist thrilled to hear about. The characters, for the most part, were multi-dimensional and interesting. The plot, while it slowed in a few places, was well thought out and there were some surprises tossed in there.

The setting was multi-layered and complex. We have a lot of cultures and some interesting history that has shaped both Kenya and Tanzania. While we see the entire story through the eyes of Pero, he has filmed in these two countries before over the last few decades and has friends and pseudo-enemies (or at least, people he has to bribe upon sight) in the area. He’s not ignorant of the local languages and customs, but nor is he an expert. He relies heavily on his good friend Mbuno, who is the expert. that friendship and trust becomes pretty important during the story. Mbuno gives us a look into local culture while also still being able to relate to it. He’s a tracker as well as having contacts in nearly every city, town, and village. More than once, his abilities keep the crew alive.

Obviously, Pero and Mbuno are the stars of this book. I felt the most connected to these two. The author also did a good job of making side characters personable or, at least, memorable. Plenty of characters had both good and bad traits. For instance, a lot of folks expect or even demand bribes and yet that is how things work. Normally, I would put bribery in the bad category, but several characters rely on this type of transaction in order to get things done. It was very interesting to see how that worked in practice.

Our first female character, a vehicle rental business owner, doesn’t make an appearance until perhaps 1/4 of the way into the book. She was a minor character, even if she had lots of personality. Then finally we get Mary well into the book, perhaps as much as 1/3 of the way. She has a great personality and gets a scene or two to show us readers her biology expertise. There’s a few more female characters here and there, all minor. The ones who get to talk are written well and so I don’t know why the author is so shy in using female characters. Additionally, Mary is the only character through out the book that shows some skin, unless you count Pero’s comedic medical issue at the very end. Also, the women cry, need comforting, and occasionally faint. So, yes, in general they are interesting and well written, and yet the author still sometimes falls back on cliches.

The plot held my attention for most of the book. We start off basically on a safari with a knowledgeable film crew and I simply enjoyed soaking in the atmosphere. Then we have the mysterious death that sets off all the other events. We learn very early on that Pero has historically done very small jobs for interested governments – such as dropping off notes or making note of whether or not a certain political figure stayed at the same hotel as himself. In this tale, Pero’s role and, hence, his contacts will come into the big picture. This kind of spy stuff was a nice added touch to the plot and it totally worked with the terrorist plot that takes over the second half of the book. There were some twists and turns I didn’t see coming and those were exciting problems to see the crew take on and conquer.

So my one complaint with the plot is that sometimes it got too into the details and sometimes the dialogue repeated the same concepts again and again. I can see how the author was trying to bring in some reality, and sometimes that worked very much in his favor, but sometimes it went a little over and my mind would drift as the characters rehashed the same thing they had been rehashing for the last 10 minutes. Still, the book over all is worth these little bumps for the thrill of the ride. The ending was a wonderful nail-biting last hour and left me feeling very satisfied.

I received a copy of this audiobook at no cost from the author (via the blog tour company iRead Book tours) in exchange for an honest review.

Narration:  R. D. Watson did a pretty darn good job. He had to pull off a lot of different accents – which he did quite well. His female voices were also believable. During times of excitement, stress, or sadness, he imbued the scenes with emotion. Nicely done!