Very few authors in the history of popular fiction can match the record of internationally best-selling writer Wilbur Smith. For almost 50 years, Smith has written incredibly entertaining adventure novels with settings that range from ancient Egypt to the settling in southern Africa by whites and from both world wars to today's civil conflicts.
To put it in perspective, this Rhodesian born son of British expatriates has been writing since the heyday of Alistair MacLean, John D. MacDonald and Hammond Innes. Louis L'Amour was just hitting his stride when Smith's first saga of the Courtney family, "When the Lion Feeds," hit the shelves.
When it comes to a record of longevity and quality, the only writer I can think of who matches that of Wilbur Smith is American mystery icon Ed McBain.
Smith's latest, "Blue Horizon," continues the story thread begun in "Birds of Prey" about the first Courtneys to land in Africa in the 17th century. Half-brothers Tom and Dorian Courtney are no longer considered pirates and have become one of the most prominent trading families in the Dutch-controlled southern end of Africa.
But as the Courtneys are apt to do, one of them is about to risk it all over a beautiful woman.
When Tom's son, Jim, impetuously rescues a young woman from a Dutch prison ship, he brings down the wrath of the governor, who has been jealous of the Courtneys for years. Luckily for Jim, Louisa is worth it .
While Jim, accompanied by Bakaat, his loyal Bushman mentor and employee, attempts a daring escape across uncharted deadly territory, the governor sends his own hunter, Bakaat's murderous and scheming rival, Xhia, after them. Xhia is perhaps the only tracker in the territory who is Bakaat's equal.
The rest of the Courtney family escapes from under the governor's nose, but this brings Dorian back to the attention of those engaged in a civil war in Arabia for the title of caliph. Dorian - who, like the biblical Joseph, had been sold into slavery and made his way into the ruler's good graces and eventually married his daughter - is now the only remaining legitimate heir to the throne.
A tragic murder leads to the reluctant involvement of Dorian and his son, Mansur, in the civil war, and as happens with every Courtney, Mansur finds his mate while on an adventure that leads to building a personal empire. This time, it's a shirttail relative, Verity Courtney, daughter of Tom's evil twin brother, Guy, who is up to his neck in the treachery surrounding the war for the caliph's throne.
"Blue Horizon" is everything Smith's fans have come to expect from his epic adventure novels. In fact, you might say that's its only weakness. Smith has replayed the Cain-and-Abel conflict with mismatched brothers along with Romeo and Juliet-style romantic turmoil many times through the years.
However, his consummate skill at crafting vast battle scenes, passionate and wildly romantic characters, cruel and bloodthirsty villains and larger-than-life heroes makes "Blue Horizon" irresistible.
Smith's intimate knowledge of Africa's landscape, history and peoples give his yarns their unique edge. The best subplot in the book, in fact, does not deal with the grand ambitions of the Courtneys but the deadly duel between the highly skilled, diminutive Bushman trackers, Bakaat and Xhia.
It's been a long time since Smith wrote a thriller set in the modern day, and one would think
the war on terrorism and current upheaval in Africa would provide plenty of grist for his mill. However, he's still got 100 years of Courtneys to account for, and his ancient Egypt series is very popular.
Wherever he chooses to go next, however, readers can expect a wildly adventurous good time.