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Review of 'War Cry' by Wilbur Smith

This best-seller is getting a review because it uses some of the same ingredients as The Kingdom of the Air. This is a Wilbur Smith collaboration with David Churchill and is instalment #15 in the sweeping historical saga of the Courtneys of Africa, though it is not difficult to pick up the story at this point. Spanning the 1920s and 30s up to the start of WW2, it develops a Kenyan-raised, English-educated protagonist - Saffron Courtney - daughter of Leon Courtney from 2009's'Assegai'. She has all the can-do toughness acquired through a colonial African childhood and all the sophistication of her European education. Humanised by the tragic death of her mother, she is a sympathetic character. Courted by British Intelligence, she is evolving into something of a female James Bond. The parallel story is that of her love interest - Gerhard Von Meerbach, scion of a German industrialist who becomes a Luftwaffe fighter pilot with a growing disenchantment with the Nazi regime. The star cross'd lovers deal with personal turmoil as war looms.

War-Cry sets up what promises to be a saga within a saga, and I will certainly follow through with the next instalment called 'Courtney's War'. The Churchill-Smith collaboration is mostly effective, and quite engaging. Pacing is variable as we skim some years, and linger in other moments. At times, the reference to other parts of the Courtney heritage seem a little contrived, and a cynic might say Churchill is either paying homage to the Wilbur Smith brand, or is doing his bit to sell Smith's backlist. The historical references enrich the tale, and the research give the settings a ring of authenticity.

The third act shifts gears from family saga, to full thriller-pace and an inevitable but slightly implausible conflict between Courtney and Meerbach. Throughout, there is sex, violence and betrayal according to the recipe, but I did enjoy the way Saffron becomes a compelling and complex heroine, capable of the love and ruthlessness that makes her another formidable Courtney. I did enjoy a Godfather-esque finale, but I can't say more without spoilers! If this was a stand-alone, I'd give it three stars.A good holiday read. Depending on how well it sets up the sequel, it may, on reflection, prove worthy of four stars.

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