Smith's latest Courtney family adventure (after Monsoon), set in colonial South Africa in the early 18th century, follows Jim Courtney, scion of the English shipping and adventuring family seeking their fortune in the Cape of Good Hope colony, administered by the Dutch. A storm at sea blows a ship full of female Dutch convicts into port, and Jim saves the life of the comeliest prisoner, Louisa, before the vessel sinks. Louisa was unjustly imprisoned when she went to the authorities about her lascivious and violent employer. Jim's rescue infuriates the greedy Dutch overlords, and the Courtneys, with Louisa in tow, head north in search of more hospitable territory. The balance of the long tale is elephant hunts, exploration of Indian sea islands, battles among native tribes and conflicts between principled colonialists—Jim and his father and brother—and their baser counterparts, including Jim's treacherous uncle and most of the Dutch population. The Courtneys are adored by various native peoples, and a Bushman tracker named Bakkat becomes their acolyte and guide, while his enemy, Xhia, takes orders from the Dutch. The eventual confrontation of the two Bushmen is gripping, if readers can get past the generally condescending way in which Smith writes about black Africans. Subtlety takes a back seat in this broad tale, and readers may be exhausted before they get to the end, but the writer's fans will enjoy the ride. (May)
Forecast: Smith consistently hits #1 in the U.K. but not here, where he drifts onto national lists. This novel should repeat that pattern.