Wilbur Smith is one of my all time favorite authors. I’ve travelled time and again through his novels to central and southern Africa and to ancient Egypt. The Courtneys, the Ballantynes and the magus Taita are some of the most memorable literary heroes and I admit that I have spent many hours of agony and reading joy with them.
In Those in Peril we don’t meet any of them though. The main protagonists are a couple of seemingly opposite characters that have nothing much in common: Hector Cross who runs a security firm and Hazel Bannock, an ex tennis player and the head of a big oil company.
Hazel doesn’t like nor trust Hector, despite the fact that her late husband had a very high opinion about his person. Since the latter died she’s being working hard to earn her place in a most competitive world, where men hold all the power, and she’s been doing fine. However, in order to do even better she has to get rid of the heavy shadow that her husband still casts over her whole being and from the past that he created for her. It’s in this past that she considers Hector to belong to. But at the exact moment that she’s getting ready to get rid of him, something happens that turns her plans and her world upside down: her luxurious yacht is taken over by pirates in the open waters east of Somalia and her daughter Cayla who was aboard is taken as a prisoner. Now this seemingly all powerful woman has to all that she can to secure her release. So she leaves the emirate of Abu Zara, where one of her oil fields is based in a rush, and heads for the US where she gets in touch with the FBI and the secret services of her country, and even with the president himself, asking for help. As she’s soon to find out there’s nothing much they can do for her, thus, left with no other option she swallows her ego and half-heartedly calls Hector, the only man who can make things happen. He will start planning a rescue mission right away, a mission however which will take a lot of time to come to be, since the pirates have as their base a semi-independent region of Somalia, where the only laws that apply are the ones dictated by the old sheikh. As the information starts to accumulate and the plans of the mission reach their final stages, Hazel almost unwillingly finds herself forming a close relationship with Hector, and feels her disgust of him turn into something completely different, something she couldn’t think possible to happen ever again. Under the direst circumstances she feels the touch of love.
This novel can be read as a big adventure, but as a love story as well. The main characters are rich but nonetheless lonely people, who are desperately trying to find something or someone to fill their blanks and bring a touch of happiness into their lives. The action in many scenes is fast paced, sometimes there are torrents of blood and the violence is pretty brutal, but every now and then things slow down and the narration becomes tender and deeply humane. All you need is love, the author seems to say and he’s trying to prove that when there’s that no obstacle is too big for people to overcome. Sometimes they do, but sometimes they don’t. And that is a fact of life.
I’d say that the strength of this novel lies heavily on its well-crafted heroes, since it’s not only Hector and Hazel who manage to impress us with their psyches, but also -the gun and fist crazy- Irishman Paddy, the Russian superwoman Nastiya, quiet Tariq, as well as the villains. However, I wouldn’t say that this is one of his best novels because despite all the lovemaking and the action something seems to be missing; exactly what I cannot really say. What I can say though is that when I finished reading it I felt like it didn’t reach the high standards set by the author himself in his previous novels. A good read nevertheless.