Mark of the Lion: A Jade del Cameron Novel by Suzanne Arruda is the start of yet another historical mystery series. The story is set in British Colonial Africa, circa 1915 and features a strong female protganoist, Jade del Cameron. Jade is an American who was once in the ambulance corps in France during the war. Are you in the mood for adventure? Danger? Romance? Ms. Arruda gives you all of that and more in her debut novel. This book was refreshing and very entertaining.
The narrative follows Jade del Cameron as she and her best friend, Beverly are fighting on the front in France. Both women are ambulance drivers during the war and under artillery fire they go in and retrieve wounded soldiers. One night during aerial combat, Jade’s fiance’s plane is shot down. Mortally wounded, his dying wish is for her to find his long lost brother and he gives her his ring in remembrance.
Soon after the war is over, Jade returns home to New Mexico to finish college. Post-traumatic stress syndrome sets in and leaves her with panic attacks and nightmares of the front and David’s death. Thus, in order to put David to rest, Jade’s father taps a magazine editor who gives Jade a job to write travel articles in Africa. The assignment gives her the opportunity to learn what she can about David’s estranged brother and solve the mystery of his father’s death.
David’s father, Gil Worthy, had went to Africa as a prospector and died suspiciously. He was mauled by a wild animal in his hotel room in Nairobi. In London, Mr. Worthy’s widow denies the existence of this “other son” and offers Jade no help when she visits. Thus Jade seeks out Mr. Worthy’s solicitor and he hires her on to investigate Gil Worthy’s death as well as to track down his estranged son so that he may get his inheritance. So, off to Africa she goes as a photographer for The Traveler.
In a class conscious Nairobi, many of the British colonists look upon Jade as an anomaly. She always carries with her at all times her Winchester rifle and can hold her own among men. She is a larger than life character. She dons trousers instead of skirts, doesn’t wear a hat outside and prefers a strong pot of black coffee over English tea any day of the week. Born on the frontier, there isn’t very much that Jade can’t do. In Nairobi she picks up some friends along the way, The Thompson’s (Madeline and Neville) who are newlyweds and coffee farmers. Then there’s her best friend and newly married Lady Beverly Dunbury and her husband Avery Dunbury who is a member of Parliament. There are other secondary characters who stood out and helped to move the story along.
Once in Nairobi Jade is quickly told about the laibon’s and their control over the wild animals (hyenas and lions). The laibon is Swahili for “witch”. The Kikuyu village and it’s inhabitants believe in witches or familiars and they believe that the laibon uses these wild animals to do their bidding. Many of the Kikuyu believe that the witch can also transform themselves into these creatures. Killing a familiar is very bad and could mean revenge for you. Jade is told that when she shoots a hyena late one night and earns the name of “Simba Jike” by the natives. She is now marked by the witch for revenge. This provides for much of the suspense of the story along with the mystery of this estranged second son. Revenge does come for Jade in the form of nightmares and one of man’s most fearsome creatures: lions. I don’t ever want to come across one.
Besides Africa’s native creatures, there is the land itself, described in lush detail by the author. I’ve always been told that Africa is a beautiful place to visit. The mountains of Kilimanjaro. The Chyulu Hills. All of it was just lovely to read. I felt like a tourist while reading this story and I hope to one day visit there. What about the romance you ask? The romance is subtle and nice. Obviously, it is not the focus. Here is one of many intimate scenes between Jade and travel guide, Harry Hascombe:
“Where did you learn to dance, Mr. Hascombe?”
He didn’t answer at first and when he did, Jade felt the words hit like a rifle’s recoil. “You need to forget him, Jade,” he said softly. “I could make you forget him, if you’d let me.”
Harry stopped dancing and simply held her in his arms. His eyes traveled from her hair, down her face to her lips and lingered there. She pulled away.
Harry Hascombe is 42 years old and an excellent hunter and rancher. One night, when they first meet, he is unarmed by Jade. Harry was one of the early colonists who might have known Gil Worthy so he is a person of interest. Another person of interest is Harry’s friend Roger Forester, a farmer like himself, who lost his cattle due to a false claim of anthrax. Roger’s in debt and Harry’s trying to help him by suggesting that they partner together. It isn’t too long after that things heat up suspense wise. However, Jade does find the long lost brother but things are somewhat complicated and that is where I will leave it.
Mark of the Lion was a solidly written historical mystery but it fell hard for the usual ending cliches like the villain disclosing all his motives before death. Hate that because it’s not realistic but it provides closure. I thought the ending was a bit long winded. The action slowed down a bit when the pacing should have picked up. Then there’s the villain who had his own POV weaved throughout the story. They were only a few paragraphs long and it really didn’t add much to the story.
Then the hero, Harry, does something really stupid that made me mad. The good points: the suspense was pretty strong, there were no loose ends and I couldn’t put the book down. The author managed to engage this reader and I was completely engrossed in this story. I thought the story was refreshing in that we didn’t have all that many TSTL moments and most of the conflicts were external and resolved logically. In concluding my thoughts, this was a very good book despite the flaws that I noted, that bothered me. My grade, B. I do plan to read the sequel (s) sometime soon.
[tags]Suzanne Arruda, Mark of the Lion, Historical Mystery, Africa[/tags]