South Africa is under attack from all sides when Elanza, a politically connected heiress blinded by disease and looking for love before it is too late, meets a naïve English boy. Ralph, eighteen and innocent, has accidentally stumbled upon Elanza – and South Africa’s biggest secret.
When Ralph disappears into the darkest part of the Continent to walk home overland, a Swazi spy, the only black African agent working for the apartheid era National Intelligence Service, comes into both of their lives.
Angel Rots is uniquely qualified for his official mission to find Ralph and a private mission to settle an old score, but in a pursuit from Cape Town to Cairo, Ralph is always one step ahead and Angel starts to ask questions. Why is this kid so important? What has he found? Looking for answers, Angel discovers a secret that challenges his own loyalties – and could change the course of history.
From illegal nightclubs in South Africa to poachers in Zimbabwe and the Batwa pygmies of Burundi, from arrests in Uganda and drugged hit men in Kenya to thieving Sudanese nuns and a final confrontation in the bazaars of Old Cairo, no one would make it home without an angel watching over them.
When I was offered the chance to review this fascinating sounding novel, I jumped at it. As well as promising to be a pulse-pounding thriller with huge scope, it offered an epic journey for the reader across Africa, following a route that the author himself has walked. With a hook like that, who could resist. Huge thanks go to Sophie Morgan at Troubador for asking me to read the book and for my copy which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.
I had this book on my TBR for ages, so my apologies to the publisher and author for taking so long to review it. I had a bout of illness between April and June which meant I could not read for a while, and this book is a thick old tome, so I had to wait until I had a sufficient gap in my blog tour schedule to fit it in. When I did finally get round to it though, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The story is an interesting mix of thriller, travelogue, political commentary and coming-of-age story. I have never come across anything quite like it, and the fact that it was based on the author’s own experiences of travelling through Africa in the 1980’s added another level of interest to the story for me.
I actually found the book a little difficult to get in to initially. I did read the first 10% and didn’t really become invested on my first attempt so I put it to one side for a couple of weeks, thinking that maybe I was not quite in the right frame of mind. When I went back to it, I still found the beginning a little confusing and difficult to get through, but this time I persevered and, once I got to the part where Ralph sets off on his journey through the heart of Africa, I was thoroughly engrossed and raced through the rest of it.
This is the strongest part of the novel for me. The political thriller element, which was quite complicated to set up and follow and which ostensibly operates as the frame on which to hang Ralph’s adventure and add the tension of pursuit, didn’t quite work for me. The real story was Ralph’s extraordinary journey, and the fascinating commentary on the socio-political landscape of central Africa during the time of this journey is what had me glued to the page. Honestly, I was riveted by this aspect and, if this is a subject that interests you, this book is really a must read. For me, the book would have worked just as well as a straight forward travel book without the thriller element, but that is just a matter of personal preference possibly.
I got a little lost again at the end when the thriller elements were being tied up, and overall, I was much less invested in the subsidiary characters of the book, who did not feel as well fleshed out and purposeful to me as Ralph. It was clear which character the author closely identified with in the story, his journey – both physical and emotional – burnt through the page and into my heart, the rest was just background and window-dressing, which is why I believe it could have worked as well as straight forward non-fiction travel writing. However, there may be other people, bigger fans of political thrillers, who will react to it differently. As someone who loves travel writing, and social commentary, I probably focused in much more on the aspects of the book that appealed to those interests.
This book has a lot to recommend it, and I feel like I have been enriched by the experience of reading it, despite my little niggles about certain aspects. It requires quite an investment of time and mental energy, but it is an investment that will be well rewarded.
Shelter Rock is out now and you can get a copy here.
About the Author
MP Miles is originally from a small town in Dorset. He is a pilot, a diving instructor, and an award-winning chef. A lifelong sailor he now lives with his girlfriend on-board a yacht called Pacific Wave.
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