Review: Just in case you thought that it was safe to go back to the bookshelves after reading his 2006 debut horror novel, Homunculus (MacMillan New Writers), the multiple award winning writer Hugh Paxton has done it again with his latest novel, Overland. He’s turned literary conventions on their head and served up a uniquely Paxtonian adventure that is as grand in its fanciful conception as it is smoothly persuasive and gripping in its execution. The seemingly unlikely candidate to emerge as principal protagonist in this action-packed trans-southern African adventure novel is wait for it, … a middle-aged English lady librarian! Thankfully she has sufficient sand and sang froid not just to survive the ‘holiday from hell’ but also to save quite a few of her fellow passengers from grisly ends. Not all of them, no.
I like the colourful culture clashing, the transportive description and the redemptive bitter-sweet quality of the denouement.
Overland is a fast-paced and peppery literary cocktail of the Bloody Mary variety that leaves your tongue tingling for the next sip. The exact recipe is a secret of the author’s own concoction, but the flavours work and, amongst other good stuff, it tastes like there are two shots of the best Carl Hiaasen, a whiff of Sven Hassel and Stephen King and a hefty slug of Wilbur Smith in this brew. Where else could you expect to read of diamond smugglers, apartheid-era special forces, a ghost leopard, murderers, a blazing elephant, Zimbabwean unrest and Matopo Hills witches? The results are enjoyably inebriating – pure Paxton.
Hugh Paxton’s Overland is currently available electronically in Kindle version. Prospective publishers are encouraged to contact Hugh via this blog about opportunities for hard copy editions.
When Mabel Meade, a retired small town English librarian, joins an African Overland bus trip she is looking for adventure. But she has no idea that the adventure will involve her sharing an uncomfortable and over-crowded truck with a group of such extremely incompatible fellow tourists (including meteorite smugglers, drug abusers, racists, left wing idealists, vegetarians who won’t eat the food, tedious bores, and, but of course, a pregnant woman who is constantly in jeopardy).
Mabel almost immediately encounters violence, evil omens and the accidental discovery of a mummified Bushman – unearthed by a sand storm in the Namib desert – with a gut full of smuggled diamonds worth a fortune.
And that’s just the beginning.
As Esmerelda, the decrepit Overland truck, groans her way through the Namibian badlands and then through Botswana bound for Zimbabwe things just get worse.
As each new challenge and catastrophe arises Mabel is the one with the answers. Most solutions seem right at the time but more often than not spur further challenges and disasters.
Tension between the “tourists” inside Esmerelda mounts. The body count rises.
When the “Cursed Safari” as the Media has dubbed it, enters Zimbabwe, the body count rockets.
Against a background of massive civil unrest, White-owned farm invasions, shanty town clearances by Mugabe’s tottering dictatorship, and para-military brutality, Esmerelda’s passengers attempt an escape to Zambia to sell the diamonds and split the change.
Apart from the ones who have decided not to share. They put their own plans into action. So do other parties who have become involved.
Despite her age, her trials and frequent errors, it is Mabel who ultimately saves the day and ensures that the few Overlanders who survive their African vacation will be able to spend the rest of their lives on vacation.
Somewhere a bit more relaxing.
And somewhere with a lot less witches, burning elephants, civil war, haunted caves, exploding hospitals and insane one-eyed snipers.
Mabel puts her success down to many long years of employment, maintaining discipline and good clean fun in her Framley Library’s Children’s Corner.