Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 22, 2015

Musth, an African Thriller, by Fred Guilhaus

MusthThrillers are not really my thing, but I was interested when this one turned up in my postbox.  It’s set in Africa, (Kenya, actually) featuring a corrupt wildlife organisation; the privatisation of national parks; and the would-be westernisation of the Maasai, but it’s written by a German-born company director, living in Adelaide. And the cover design by Kevin Murphy is an arresting image, eh?

Musth refers to the highly aggressive behaviour of bull elephants when they are in season but that’s not the only testosterone floating about in this book.  Dr Bridget O’Connor is given a grant by SHE Inc (Science, Heritage and the Environment) to research her method of sterilising elephants that are so numerous in Kenya, they are destroying their own environment.  But SHE’s generosity is specious; in reality it is in cahoots with the corrupt Kenyan government and the men involved in this are, at every level, like rogue elephants.  Characterisation is a bit black-and white, but I guess that goes with the genre.

In Australia there is Frank Olsen, who hires Bridget.  He’s ruthlessly ambitious and greedy, with no redeeming qualities.  Bridget’s friend Jerri, who’s an investigative journalist, takes him on when Bridget’s suspicions are aroused, but it’s Olsen’s loyal secretary (yes, a bit of stereotyping here) who investigates Terri and blows the whistle.  This turns out to be perilous indeed, because the real agenda behind the privatisation of the national parks involves the removal of the Maasai who have farmed cattle in the area for generations; illegal hunting of elephants by rich tourists; ivory for the Asians, and oil.  To achieve this, mercenaries have been hired, and they are all brutish and cruel.

… They knew when Cashman was joking, because it never happened.  His prison reputation was potent. He spent much of his time in the gymnasium, and was not retiring in enforcing his will on others. ‘There’s over one thousand elephants in this park.  It can support three hundred. A good bull will fetch one hundred thou.  You’ll only be poachers for a short while.  A distraction. You see we have to convince the government that you’re here for a good reason. Poachers have avoided Amboseli.  There’s not enough cover, and too many tourists.  We have to go north, kill a couple of real poachers, perfectly legal, bring the bodies back here and you guys will be the ones who brought them in. Just a smoke screen for the main event.  You kill a few elephants, get the rangers used to having a few drop around the place. That’s what that truck is for, ivory and whatever.  We establish credibility with the authorities, point at a few dead poachers, and gradually assume control. Then we’ve got a bag-full of wealthy clients back in the States who will be doing the real hunting, and paying for it.  The elephants wander in and out of the park.  The hunting will occur in the denser scrub, around Kilimanjaro.  I’ve given you an indication of what you can earn,’ he sat back and dug his hands in his pockets.

‘That’s it?’ Fielding asked.

‘There’s more.  Plenty more. This is the pocket money.  ‘I’ll be telling you about the real thing after you perform.’  He then slowly fixed each man with a penetrating stare that was lost on no one.  ‘You three stick together at all times. Any word of this gets out…’ (p. 64)

On the side of the Good Guys and providing the Love Interest, there is the rough diamond Bill Davison, who pilots the helicopter that Bridget uses to fire darts to stun the elephants, and there is an English-educated Maasai improbably called Daniel who introduces her to Maasai culture.  And conveniently speaks English and can muster a bunch of young warriors to help out in the exciting climax.

Musth is well-written, skilfully plotted and offers much to think about in the way that literary fiction does.  However, thrillers of this type rely on perpetuating the stereotype of African governments as hopelessly corrupt, and romanticising Daniel as a sexy Maasai with an identity crisis doesn’t resolve my doubts about outsiders stereotyping ‘Africans’.  I’m also uneasy about the characterisation of the three imported thugs from the States; while the evil masterminds are all White men, the thugs who do what they’re told are Black, and they’re not given the dignity of being described as African Americans, just generically as small-b blacks.   There’s also a credibility issue when it comes to representing women dealing with the trauma of rape: business-as-usual and an objective concern for others in the aftermath doesn’t seem likely to me.

There’s also an unacceptable number of annoying typos…

Author: Fred Guilhaus
Title: Musth, an African Thriller
Publisher: Wakefield Press, 2014
ISBN: 9781743053416
Source: Review copy courtesy of Wakefield Press

Availability

Fishpond: Musth
Or direct from Wakefield Press


Responses

  1. How you come up with these novels, I’ll never know. I would like to read a non-thriller about African big game hunting.

    • LOL I can’t take the credit, the publisher sent it to me. Didn’t Hemingway write about big game hunting?

  2. Hello Lisa. I’m not sure how often authors you have reviewed actually respond to your reviews. I read your review with interest and came away in dismay. Not because you don’t normally take on thriller fiction and have found this book not entirely adept at navigating racial and other issues of stereotype, but because you do a disservice to yourself and your readers by getting wrong the very things you criticise. Please understand, this is not a disgruntled author’s response, rather an attempt for you also to get it right.
    You name Frank Olsen(the baddie as referred to a myriad times in the book as Frank, or Olsen or Frank Olsen …as Fred Olsen!!! Incredible.You mention the typos and I think there are four in a book of 368 pages. You can’t even get right the second most important character in the book!! So, sorry, that’s bad.
    Then you really should inform yourself of facts before you evidence your own ignorance. Daniel(the Maasai) is representative of all Maasai who have been educated, speak perfect English, and are quite numerous.
    The Maasai are being evicted by a corrupt government in Tanzania as we speak. What is described is actually happening.
    If you are not aware of the unfortunate prevalence of corruption in Africa, you must have spent a lot of time in isolation.
    The “blacks” are actually written about with great sympathy, and I was quite taken aback that you did not notice that Daniel, for example is black.And how the book turns itself inside out to deliberate on the exploitation of blacks…this is a central theme.

    Anyway, thank you for taking the time and I do appreciate all responses, good and bad.

    • Hello Fred, I’m sorry I got Olsen’s name wrong, my mistake.
      Thank you for your comments.


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