A Cafe on the Nile

Bartle Bull, Author
Bartle Bull, Author Carroll & Graf Publishers $26 (466p) ISBN 978-0-7867-0556-6
Reviewed on: 11/30/1998
Release date: 12/01/1998
Paperback - 466 pages - 978-0-7867-0675-4
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Bull, an explorer who turned his extensive knowledge of Africa to excellent use in The White Rhino Hotel, has produced another rattling good blockbuster yarn. The description seems inevitable, because this is very much a period piece--the period being 1935 (a few years before The English Patient takes place), when Mussolini was flexing his military muscle in Africa and pouring men and munitions through the Suez Canal for the conquest of Abyssinia, in one of the harsh prologues to WWII. The large and spirited cast includes Olivio Alavedo, the wily Goan dwarf who runs the Cataract Cafe on a barge in Cairo; his friend Anton Rider (a British great white hunter raised in England by gypsies), whose long absences on safari have spoiled his marriage to plucky Gwenn. She, alas, takes up with a suave but untrustworthy Italian flying ace, Count Grimaldi, and soon finds herself, when the attack on Abyssinia begins, trying to patch up the natives his planes are massacring. Other characters include a pair of sexy, sharp-shooting American female twins on Anton's war-beleaguered safari, a grizzled German adventurer attempting to make off with Italian silver booty and a delightfully languid British aristocrat, Adam Penfold, who seems to know everyone. The action is nonstop, the details are rawly authentic and the whole thing makes for a fast-paced and absorbing, if somewhat old-fashioned, read. The only problem is that Bull seems to take rather excessive relish in the many imaginatively brutish ways in which men kill each other. (Dec.)
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