A Wake of Vultures by Mary Earnshaw

I received an email a week or so ago suggesting that I might be interested in this book. Admittedly, it was from the author, but as a) it’s a mystery novel with an interesting setting, b) it’s a first novel, and I always like to support new writers where possible and c) part of the profits will go to charity, it was off to the Kindle store to download it.

One year ago, Professor Lizzie Lamb discovered the jawbone of a rare, ancient human and now, as word has got out, a collection of fossil hunters are arriving to try and locate the exact site in order to find their fame and fortune. When the first hunter to arrive is found murdered, and more crimes follow, it seems that a very dangerous predator is stalking the Zambia wilderness – and this one has got two legs.

Sorry, that last sentence is unbearably cheesy, but I’ve got the flu, so you’ll have to stick with it – I can’t think of anything better.

Right – always a tricky one to review books when you’ve been contacted by the author about them – but this should be good practise for me, as I’ve a couple of review copies of books winging my way at the moment.

The author is writing from experience here – not the murder bit, I hope – as the setting in Zambia is full of colour and flavour. From the setting at Elephant Camp, the home base for the expedition to the wilderness and its dangers, both natural and unnatural, the detail, both in description and in the behaviour of the characters is very well portrayed. The high point for me was a conversation with what could have been a stereotypical “corrupt” policeman, pointing out the reasons for that particular label.

As for the plot, it trundles along nicely. The murderer is unmasked at the appropriate time – there is a nice bit of double-bluff going on… but I think I was expecting a little more of this aspect and it’s my old enemy, the blurb, again.

To quote Amazon:- this tale of rivalry, greed and death blends the classic Agatha Christie-style brain teaser with the exotic adventure of an Indiana Jones movie.

I would implore the reader – and let’s be clear, I’d recommend that you give this one a look – don’t go in expecting an Agatha Christie-style brain teaser. Yes, the structure is similar, but too many characters are clearly not suspects and, expecting a stunning twist thanks to the advertising, I felt a little let down by the final revelations. Yes, there is a cleverness to them, but it doesn’t really have the depth of Dame Agatha. This would not have been a problem if it hadn’t been advertised as such, so as long as you go into it with an open mind, you’ll enjoy the ending more than I did. Oh, and apart from having a snake in it, there’s even less Indiana Jones. This wasn’t a problem at all, as the book is far too intelligent to have lost idols and Holy Grails messing up the narrative.

As for the central cast, they are very well characterised. There is quite a large group to juggle and most of them get decent airtime. A couple of the students get short-shrift – but with such a large cast, this was probably a sensible choice.

So, dear reader – as long as you don’t believe the hype, this is a great read. I recommend you have a look at it – one quarter of all profits go to the University of Liverpool Africa Endowment Fund. It’s available on Kindle for a couple of quid and in paperback from the publishers here.

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6 comments

  1. Sorry to hear you are unwell mate! This sounds like quite an intriguing read – and the hype is just a fact of life now. Just look at the all the hubbub surrounding the release of PROMETHEUS, which i quite enjoyed, but there is a lot less to it than the advertising might lead you to believe … Having said that, someone actually tried to sue recently claiming that the ads for a movie (DRIVE) were misleading. Surely that’s the point …

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    • Recovered now – thanks for the kind thoughts. I don’t mind the hype except when it tempts you with something that it isn’t – as, arguably, in this case.

      Don’t know the details of the Drive case, but there are some dodgy trailers out there – look at those for subtitled films that have no dialogue in them (Headhunters, for example), The Artist that didn’t make it clear it was a silent film and, my favourite, Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd that contained no singing! Anyone who relies solely on trailers would be confused, at least. But does anyone actually only rely on trailers?

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      • Well exactly – you’d have to be living in a cave not to know THE ARTISTS was about a movie with no dialogue (plenty of sound of course) – I do find it amusing when you get trailers for foreign (i.e. non-English speaking) movie with no dialogue present – a bit of a giveaway and I have pointed that out to several people who weren’t seeing through the ruse …

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