The Hunter by Tony Park
“Africa, the wild, had a way of bringing out the child in everyone”, safari guide and private investigator Hudson Brand observes towards the end of Tony Park’s evocative and eventful thriller The Hunter.
To describe Brand as a ladies’ man would be to considerably understate the case –nary a woman passes through the pages without propositioning him, and most are received willingly – and when the action occasionally strays into the corny or implausible it is generally related to his irresistibility: the fearless, camo-clad bushman as masculine archetype.
Brand is also enigmatic, a trait that serves the story well and that stems from his peripatetic early life and mixed heritage (something likely understood by Park, an Australian who spends much of his time in South Africa). Born to an American oilman father and a Portuguese-Angolan mother, Brand is an army veteran and a South African citizen who can, depending on the demands of the day, present as American, British, African or none of the above.
His lone-wolf nature, combined with his ability to shape-shift and his intimate knowledge of the terrain of southern Africa, earn him a passable living as a guide to tourists, augmented by the odd assignment fed through to him by a London-based lawyer (and former lover, natch) who reviews life insurance claims made by whites in Africa. When a curious case crops up involving the death by car crash of a British woman, Brand sets out to track down the only witness and determine whether the death was real or faked.
Simultaneously, Brand is of interest to a detective captain, Sannie van Rensburg (happily married, she is one of few females able to resist Brand’s allure), who suspects him of involvement in a series of grisly murders of prostitutes. She first interviewed him four years before, and her attention seems to be legitimate – in every instance, Brand has been in the company of the victim shortly before her death. He doesn’t – at least to any reader steeped in the crime thriller genre – seem the type, but a distinct lawlessness pervades the pages, and as new characters venture forth, including the evasive sister and brother-in-law of the car crash victim, it is clear than in this version of Africa, anything is possible.
At more than 400 pages the story is substantial but not overloaded, and The Hunter’s pace and readability stems from Park’s commendable knack for setting. The action veers between South Africa and Zimbabwe and encompasses the fortress homes of the wealthy and vulnerable, the rooms and bars of hotels, the game parks that house some of the world’s most endangered animals, and several unpleasant crime scenes.
The unstable socioeconomics of the region underpin the narrative, and the sheer variety of crime on display, along with the myriad ways in which anyone can be at risk, is staggering. Despite a reminder of Africa’s natural perils in a tense scene of a lion chasing down a human on the wrong side of the fence, the most lethal creatures stalking these pages are undoubtedly Homo sapiens.
Previously reviewed on Coast FM
Reviewer: Stephanie Jones