Book Review: Ghosts of the Past

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Author: Tony Park
ISBN: 978-1-76078-211-5
RRP: $32.99
Publication Date: 23 July 2019
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher

This is, I believe, Tony Park’s seventeenth thriller set in Africa, but somehow it’s the first I’ve read. It’s a strong story, with an unusual take on an exotic setting, and interesting characters. It’s no wonder his novels are popular enough for him to keep publishing stories with similar settings.

This story is told in two parts: one begins in 1902 and follows Cyril Blake and Claire Martin during the Anglo-Boer war in South Africa. The second begins in the present and follows Nick Eatwell, an Australian journalist who becomes interested in Cyril’s story – Cyril is Nick’s great-great-uncle. It will not surprise canny readers that the two stories come together, in a sense.

While Nick’s initial interest is in family history, he winds up connecting with a German researcher, Anja, who’s interested in the wild horses of Namibia. She has a passing interest in Cyril and Claire, as they may be connected to the horses she adores. Both Nick and Anja find their interest – and their survival instincts – piqued further when they realise that others believe that Cyril and Claire’s story could lead to a hoard of lost gold worth millions. And those others are willing to kill for the details.

Often in stories told this way, one story strand is more compelling than the other. I didn’t find that in this case; both were exciting and engaging, and neither dominated. This is due to the characters, as much as anything. They were all well realised, most were understandable (if not always likable), and I had no trouble believing in them.

Anyone with even a passing interest in history is likely to be aware that atrocities were committed on both sides during the Anglo-Boer war. Park brings some of these into sharp focus, and links them directly to modern atrocities such as the Nazi concentration camps. I found myself thinking also of the way Australia currently treats refugees. Regardless, this focus on some of the worst behaviour of the war is an angle you rarely see in modern thrillers. For me it added depth and added to the resonance between the two time periods.

Although Park doesn’t shy away from the fact that Africa can be a very dangerous place, in part because of crime, it’s not really his main focus. He depicts Africa vividly, both its’ beauties and some of its’ dangers, but he’s not treading the path of focusing on the incidence of violent crime. That is a point of difference from many thrillers that are set in Africa.

The thriller elements of the plot aren’t particularly original, but they work with the originality of the story from the 1900s, the use of real historical incidents, and strong characterisation, to make a really enjoyable and involving thriller that feels fresh.

If you enjoy a glimpse of history you might not know much about, exotic settings, or stories with strong characterisations and relationships, “Ghosts of the Past” is definitely a novel you should enjoy.

If you enjoy a glimpse of history you might not know much about, exotic settings, or stories with strong characterisations and relationships, “Ghosts of the Past” is definitely a novel you should enjoy.

This guest review was submitted by Lorraine Cormack, one of our long-time Beauty and Lace Club members. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us Lorraine.

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