Smith continues to top his previous novels in this instalment of the Courtney series, with Isabella the primary focus. Living with Shasa in London during his time as South African ambassador, Isabella meets and falls in love with Ramon. Unbeknownst to her, this ‘chance’ meeting is anything but luck, as the ‘Golden Fox’ is a close relative of Fidel Castro and a high-ranking official within the KGB. When Ramon impregnates Isabella, all is kept secret with a promise to announce it to the Courtney clan soon. However, the birth of young Nicholas begins the true nature of the plan, as Ramon and the baby go missing, leaving Isabella highly distraught. When she is sent a video of her son’s close-drowning and threats of future mutilation as well as death, Isabella will do whatever is asked of her to bring her son back safely. The KGB and the localized African cell wait for Shasa to return to South Africa and his next posting, as head of Armscor, which is responsible for the country’s nuclear weapons program, as well as build-up of toxic gas for use in the border wars. As Isabella leaks sensitive information to her handlers and fuelling the radical wing of the ANC as it seeks to derail the apartheid government. However, as Isabella learns, the organisation runs deeper than she thought and her own family may have weak links. It will take a major admission on Isabella’s part to free Nicholas from the grasp of this organisation and her family, complete with Sean Courtney, high-ranking soldier in the Rhodesian Army, to orchestrate an end to the blackmail scheme. With wonderful historical explanation as to the Marxist flavour Africa took in the 1970s, Smith offers a powerful and stunning narrative that leaves little doubt in the reader’s mind that this continent’s corruption has close ties to the Cold War’s installation of puppet regimes. Not to be missed by fans of the series.
How Smith can top each of the previous novels in the Courtney series baffles me, but he has done so, while weaving historical narratives throughout. The bloodshed, the puppetry undertaking by the USSR and the hands-off approach by the Americans left the region, the continent as a whole, as desolate as it stands at present. Smith moves away from the apartheid discussions and onto the horrors of Angola and Ethiopia specifically, where thousands died in major regime changes throughout the 1970s. This novels is surely a bridge to the last in the second collection, with a little mention of the Ballantyne family (another subject I believe is addressed in A TIME TO DIE), with another generation of characters working to play their part in the South African dream. The multi-generational theme becomes more apparent in this and the previous novel. While Smith preceded a few others, I can now see the ties to the Rutherfurd, Archer, and Follett series that deal with these family saga forms of novels. I cannot speak highly enough about this powerful series, dealing with the politics of Africa for which I have so long been pining.
Kudos, Mr. Smith for a powerful addition to the narrative laid out in the previous six novels in this collection, which illustrate the intricacies of the African story.