Book review: a star is born with Carrion Safari

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Jonah Buck's book about Denise DeMarco, who want to retire from the big game hunting business, but she gets an offer she can't refuse

I read a lot of novels about monsters on the attack.  Carrion Safari (2016) is the best one published since James Patterson’s Zoo (2012).  If Jonah Buck, its author, were a stock, I’d advise my clients to buy as many shares as possible, because he has a great touch and potential for growth.

Denise is a South African big game hunter and safari guide in the 1920s.  After being sickened watching a group of Belgian dentist clients mercilessly shoot a herd of elephants, she hangs up her elephant gun and quits.  But Herschel Hobhouse, representing the research arm of deep-pocketed corporation named Yersinia, offers her $100,000 to capture a specific animal.  She agrees, and travels about the Shield of Mithridates toward Malheur Island, an island of natives under vaguely Dutch colonial influence.  She finds that nine other hunters have been enlisted on the mission too.  It’s difficult to say too much more about their expedition without giving plot spoilers.

The reason that it is difficult not to reveal plot developments is because this is a well-crafted book that reveals significant developments in chunks over time.  I wouldn’t necessarily call the developments “surprises” or “plot twists”; more like miniature mysteries that are solved incrementally as the book progresses.  It makes for a nice atmosphere of uncertainty, anxiety, and even wonder.

Through pithy comments and crackling soundbites by colorful characters, Buck exhibits a great sense of humor.  Carrion Safari includes vivid and grizzly descriptions.  Buck could easily write horror if he wants to.  The plot and pace of the novel are good, so he could write thrillers if he prefers.  I’d read more of his work either way.  If this book were made into a movie, and it certainly could be, I’d be there on opening night.

Before reading this book, I read a review or two somewhere complaining that Carrion Safari has too many anachronisms.  But the thing is, the whole premise is obviously made up.  It’s about a mysterious island with actual monsters.  Readers accept that, but somebody is upset that words and traits from the 2000s being used by characters in the 1920s?  Lighten up!  Check out blockbuster contemporary movies like “The Legend of Tarzan” and tell me that transplanting our values and catchphrases a century or so is that serious of a problem.  The anachronisms are designed for entertainment purposes—the modern-sounding comments and sarcasm are funny!—they are not for the purposes of rewriting history, and should be understood as such.

My one complaint is that there are too many characters.  Each of the nine or ten hunters has his or her own traits and backstory, and it’s way too much to keep track of.  I confused a couple of them and never really understood who some of them were, which impaired my ability to follow certain plot developments.  I wish there had been a way to condense the number to five or six, tops.  That would have made things tighter, clearer, and would have earned this book a fifth star.

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“Rogue” scares and satisfies

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Rogue 2007

In the 2007 movie “Rogue,” Michael Vartan plays Pete McKell, a travel journalist who normally writes reviews of hotels, glamourous attractions, and restaurants.  Pete gets more than he bargained for when he joins a boatload of tourists on a ride upriver for a glimpse of saltwater crocodiles and other wonders in Australia’s rugged Northern Territory.

Kate Ryan, played by Radha Mitchell, runs the river tour company and skippers the flat-bottomed boat.  She is a tough, attractive, and sympathetic character who has never left the Northern Territory.  She and Pete develop a chemistry early on, and viewers can quickly predict how their relationship will develop.

Kate has to put up with a pair of human pests who harass her tour boat.  She must also contend with her own passengers who question her decision-making as the story progresses.  The tourists are a mixed lot of thrill seekers with their own strengths, weaknesses, and secrets—maybe just one aristocrat short of an Agatha Christie cast.

As viewers will guess, the boat quickly ends up in the territory of a particularly dangerous crocodile.  Ryan and her passengers have to attempt to fight their way back to safety.  This movie would appeal to fans of classic creature features like “Birds” and “Jaws.”  Unlike “Godzilla” or “Jurassic Park,” this is not a film about the hazards of scientific excess.  It’s about a big, old-fashioned natural predator and a series of missteps that leads a group of people deeper into trouble.  The fun and suspense is in seeing who gets offed and how any survivors escape.  The Australian vistas and realistic crocodile effects are also a treat.

The DVD can be bought on Amazon for $12.  Recommended with pizza and beer.