cover image THE SAPPHIRE SEA


John B. Robinson, . . Morrow, $22.95 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-06-052725-9

In his crackling debut, Robinson ignites the senses in a mad charge through the underbelly of sweltering, perilous Madagascar. Jewel dealer Lonny Cushman is working out of Diego-Suarez, "a Casablanca without a Bogart," buying low-quality sapphires for his father in bulk. On a drive through the King's Reserve, he sees a flash of blue—"a glimpse of the divine"—so brilliant that he crashes his motorcycle. A peasant is holding a giant sapphire up to the light. At its heart, there is a six-pointed star; it is the biggest, most perfect gem ever discovered. The peasant wants 66 zebu—the oxen that represent spiritual wealth to the Malagasy—and Lonny agrees. Now all he has to do is smuggle the jewel out of the country. Standing in the way are murderous army officers, crooked police and a despotic ruler called "The First Rooster"—not to mention Malika, a beautiful, seductive African-American CIA agent. Aid from his jeweler-dealer father not forthcoming, Lonny makes his way across the island, telling lies and dodging bullets, and finally makes it to sea. His adventures aren't quite over, though—he still has to sell the stone and, if he wants to see his daughter and estranged wife again, make it stateside. Robinson, who himself has traded in gemstones in Madagascar, crafts a briskly paced and gripping read, full of rich details about corundum stones, African geography and Lonny's maturation from Page Six playboy to would-be doting father. Readers may be dissuaded from visiting the island, but this breathless experience is fun all the way. (Nov. 1)