A SKOP, SKIET en donder novel with a conservation twist, Tony Park’s freshly published Scent of Fear is a real page turner. But it takes a special kind of skill to write in the first person, as a dog. Convincingly. And Australian journalist-turned-novelist Park achieves all of this and more, with distinction.
Scent of Fear is the kind of novel that would fit comfortably in your hand and your head at the beach, on an aeroplane or in hospital, it is written with compelling clarity, driven by strong narrative lines, tight visual description and convincing character definition. Indeed, it’s up there with Lawrence Anthony’s wonderful Elephant Whisperer books in terms of the authenticity and empathy it offers the grit and stuff that comprises the South African bush.
But as a novel, it is sexy and human and textured with characters. Yet it is not only fluff and happily-ever-afters like many a commercially punted novel. In this book, there’s an underlying nub to the story which is about the realistic growing concern of poaching in Africa, and how wild life is being robbed of its horns and bones in the name of international money.
A yarn which takes you from the Kruger National Park to Afghanistan, to the streets of Mozambique and the upper echelons of the CIA, it’s a paean to the PTSD-pocked veterans of armed confrontation, as it is about the ultimate power of good over evil. And just when you think you know how the plot will pan out, there are some surprises lurking in the bush, which have as much to do with character readings and snipers in your midst, as with the lies and trickery that formed a backdrop to any kind of political landscape.
It is here, that we meet Sean, an Afghanistan war veteran with trauma-enhanced money issues and a heart in the right place; Craig, his best friend; and Christine, a game farm owner, who has a complicated relationship with both of them. Toss in a whole bunch of people out to hunt rhinos in the Park who will take down whatever else may come in their path; and Tumi, arguably the hero of the tale, who has her heart in the veterinary sciences and the courage to save the world. Not to forget the canine characters in the novel, the working dogs, Benny and Gemma, Shikar and Clyde.
It’s a deliciously, satisfying but also informative and informed foray into the cruelty that lies out there in the face of money. Ultimately, it’s a wonderful read.
- Scent of Fear by Tony Park is published by Pan MacMillan (2018).