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Big Game and political thriller set in 1960s Kenya

24th February 2023

The Lord’s Tusks by Jeffrey Ulin – Big Game and political thriller set in 1960s Kenya.

Big Game and political thriller set in 1960s Kenya

Although set only around 60 years ago, The Lord’s Tusks seems to come from a totally bygone age. Kenya has just won her independence and Africans are firmly in charge. But colonial influence is slow to depart – be it from the British polo club on the outskirts of Nairobi or from the number of ex-colonial administrators still employed in government. It is a strange balance. Like much of Africa, an independent Kenya is slowly finding its place.

Attitudes and conventions were entirely different to what they are today. Big Game is seen as a commodity. Lions are hunted for fun and trophies, elephants and rhinos are hunted (and poached) for ivory and their horns. It is big business. Poaching is, of course, still present today – but on nothing like the same scale and largely without the institutionalised corruption that permited it. I have been on camera safari in the Serengeti, and the thought of the wholesale slaughter appals me. Yet it was the norm.

Richard Keeton has recently married the widow of the British ex-ambassador to Kenya, who had been tragically killed in a plane crash. Richard is due to inherit a lordship in the UK, but – until that happens – is living above his means. He sometimes raids his wife’s bank account. He is also developing a major poaching business – shipping ivory and rhinos’ horns out of the country. He has allies in this venture, an ex-colonial administrator working the Wildlife department of government, and an African who he educated through school and university – and who has now grown into the role of head of the anti poaching division of government! A useful member of the team… Elijah (the African) is a perfect example of the rapid change enveloping the country. He is equally at home with his tribal life – wife and son in his village, and with his new life as a sophisticated city dweller (with a second wife to match). He is somewhat conflicted. The president of the country (no less) facilitates the operation and takes bribes for doing so…

Meanwhile Richard’s step daughter, Caroline, herself a big animal vet, meets and fall in love with an American, Michael Sandburg, who is camping in the savannah chronicling the lives of baboons for his PhD. Michael, a conservationist before it became fashionable, is not exactly on the same wavelength as her stepfather. Caroline and he begin to have their suspicions of the poaching operation. But they are torn by family loyalties even as the scope of the crime becomes apparent.

The book moves to a fast, violent and dramatic conclusion.

The Lord’s Tusks is a rewarding and though provoking read.

Tony for the TripFiction tea

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