The success of Peter Riva’s Mbuno & Pero series, the author says, can be attributed to the chemistry between the books’ unique protagonists. “The backbone to the Mbuno and Pero stories is that Mbuno understands the nature of all wildlife and Pero understands the complexities of the modern world,” Riva says. “They are yin and yang, each complementing—never competing with—the other.”
Kidnapped on Safari, the third book in the series, following Murder on Safari (2015) and The Berlin Package (2016), publishes January 21 from Skyhorse. In this installment, Mbuno, a safari guide, and Pero Baltazar, a wildlife television producer with a few clandestine associations, are embroiled in a new set of fraught circumstances: Mbuno’s son Ube has been abducted while on safari in Tanzania. Mbuno and Pero go on a dangerous mission to find Ube, only to discover that Boko Haram took him captive and kidnapped an innocent group of schoolgirls.
With aspects of international thriller and adventure, not to mention a strong focus on African wildlife, the series defies easy categorization. Riva concentrates less on genre conventions and more on connecting with readers. “Imagine you are sitting around a campfire—man, woman, teenager—and a favorite storyteller tells you a fantastic tale that resonates with values you understand, action that thrills, and above all humor to offset momentary terror,” Riva says. “The lasting impression should be a cozy feeling of a story well shared, a campfire memory to cherish, and an increased love of wildlife.”
Readers will likely be surprised by the many plot twists in Kidnapped on Safari. And Riva believes it’s these unexpected events—and the way his resourceful protagonists face them—that make his books such page-turners. In fact, Riva isn’t always sure what’s going to happen to Mbuno and Pero when he sits down to write. “The premise for me is always a simple beginning where something planned suddenly goes horribly wrong or horribly threatening,” he says. “So I plot only the beginning of an adventure that could remain ordinary and peaceful—then all hell breaks loose.”
The books’ East African setting is also integral to the series. Riva spent a great deal of time in Africa, where he had the opportunity to learn from local hunting guides. Like Pero, Riva developed a television series about African wildlife called Wild Things. And Riva’s passion for animals shines through his writing. “I knew the real Mbuno in the 1980s and he and I shared that affinity for nature, an understanding that we are animals too,” says Riva, who currently lives in southwest New Mexico. “In the wild, I respect, observe, and generally stay away from some larger animals that I see as equals— lions, bears, snakes. I am never afraid. Wary? Sure. Feel part of nature? Always.”
While Riva’s professional and personal backgrounds provide ample inspiration for his writing, the author also knows the industry. He works as a literary agent with the New York–based International Transactions. And while it can be difficult to make the transition from gatekeeper to creative writer and back again, Riva says it’s helped him succeed as an author. “Tuning out the inner critic? Impossible,” he says. “But reality is a strength. I am not a literary master and do not pretend to be. I’m a storyteller, sharing my experiences and knowledge for the pleasure of doing so and to give pleasure. Perhaps it is a primordial need to impart what I know and have seen to future generations. That’s the fun. Self-critique? Like any micromanager, I’m hardest on myself.”
And while Riva sees writing as a source of joy, he holds himself to a high standard. The advice he gives writers is the same advice he takes to heart. “As Hemingway said, writing is rewriting,” Riva says. “Each of my manuscripts is probably rewritten 10 times.” Riva also applies what he calls the “five-page rule” to his work. “You have five pages to hook your reader on the who, what, where, and why,” he says. “Get on with it.”