This second installment of Arruda’s Jade del Cameron mystery series reunites us, not only with our heroine, but with other characters from the first book as well, especially best friend Bev, Lady Dunbury; her husband Avery; 12-year-old Kikiyu lad Jelani; and safari guide Harry Hascombe. I’d recommend reading the first book, Mark of the Lion, first to get a better feel for the characters, and to be aware of events there that have continuing relevance. My comments about setting and style in my review of that book are mostly relevant here as well.
Here, though, it’s now 1920; and Jade’s assignment from her magazine is to photograph elephants and other wildlife up in the Mount Marsabit area, near Kenya’s border with Ethiopia (here referred to as Abyssinia). So our setting will be almost entirely in the bush; and the author evokes it masterfully. (Mount Marsabit, like the settings of Mark of the Lion, is a real place, and Arruda draws on contemporary descriptions by African travelers of the period, cited in the short Author’s Note, to bring it to life; the level of authenticity achieved by this research is impressive, and a definite strength of the series.) But Jade has also promised Kenya’s chief game warden that she’ll be on the lookout for the activities of ivory poachers in the area; in the Africa of the 1920s, elephants aren’t yet endangered, and are still legally hunted by “sportsmen” who buy licenses, but they’re already the prey of vicious ivory poachers who brutally slaughter whole herds. She’ll quickly find poaching activity –with slave trading, gun running, and murder thrown into the mix, in the shadow of a political unstable Abyssinia, where raiding across the border is a common occurrence.
This time, the mystery element is more deftly constructed, with a solution that’s not as readily apparent. I guessed the identity of the villain as soon as the character was introduced, but that was more a matter of intuition than anything else; my wife (I read the book out loud to her) didn’t guess it until Arruda revealed it. Jade’s deductive abilities are correspondingly more in evidence here. She continues to be one of the coolest heroines in contemporary fiction, and a favorite of both my wife and I! (The Kikiyu call her Simba Jike, or “lioness,” and the titular “mark of the lion” from the first book is the tattoo of a lion’s talon on her wrist, placed there by a Kikiyu shaman.) Here, Arruda also presents Jade with a real moment of moral choice: how far is she prepared to go in inflicting justice –even vigilante justice– on the perpetrator(s) of genuinely heinous crimes? And while I didn’t characterize this book as supernatural fiction, as I did the first one, it definitely has a plot strand that hints at the supernatural, though here the supernatural just adds a flavoring to a basically descriptive-fiction yarn.
One reviewer liked this even better than the first book, and I’m inclined to agree! In any case, it’s a strong continuation of a fine series, and one that Barb and I will definitely continue to follow.
Author: Suzanne Arruda
Publisher: New American Library, available through Amazon, both for Kindle and as a printed book.
A version of this review first appeared on Goodreads.