Maverick Life

BOOK REVIEW

In ‘Blood Trail’, Tony Park has crafted a suspenseful pandemic drama

Cover of "Blood Trail" by Tony Park. Image: Supplied

Rhino poaching and the Covid-19 pandemic provide the canvas for this cracking yarn of murder, mayhem, muthi and magic.

Tony Park is hugely entertaining, writing with a pace that keeps the narrative on track even as the trackers in his latest action tale Blood Trail lose the trail of their quarry in a seemingly magical vanishing act.

Set during the tough times of the current pandemic, Park uses a novelist’s perspective to explore some of the consequences that Covid-19 unleashed on South Africa and its wildlife industry.

Some of these include the collapse of the ecotourism industry last year and the resulting ring of hunger and poverty that encircled the Kruger National Park.

Park has a journalist’s eye for a good story in which to build a tale of fiction that could indeed be a startling fact in the often strange drama that is South Africa. He also raises in an unflinching but sensitive manner South Africa’s cultural divides in areas such as traditional beliefs, magic and views on the utility of wildlife. In Park’s deft hand, there are also bridges across the waters of these divides.  

The pandemic and the rhino poaching crisis provide the broad canvas for this cracking yarn of murder, mayhem, muthi and magic. Covid-19 has brought out the best in many people, and it has also brought out the worst. In South Africa, the scandals around personal protective equipment (PPE) tenders and the sordid Digital Vibes saga show just how low we can go. In this novel, Park among other things explores the avarice that has been uncorked by the pandemic in shocking and surprising ways. Spoiler alert: in these pages, such greed is not the monopoly of the ANC.

The novel also takes a nuanced look at the rhino poaching crisis. Its links to organised crime and Asian consumer demand are well known. Less well known are its links to the world of sangomas as poachers and gamekeepers alike use muthi for protection. And with poachers and tourists seemingly vanishing in this novel, Park has cast a spell of narrative magic that keeps the reader guessing until the nail-biting end.

A poaching incident unfolds on a live safari webcast, two local adolescent girls and a young tourist disappear, and the police, safari guides and anti-poaching units are drawn into an increasingly entangled web of danger and deceit. There is plenty of menace in the bush, and not just from big animals. Who can you trust? And can you trust your own senses?

The cast of characters includes a heroic dog and Canadian researcher who, hailing from the land of legal dagga, is of course a pot-head. Like other Park novels, this one is also great material for the big screen. Perfect tonic for a summer read on a relaxing day in the bush in between game drives. DM/ML

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