Title: The Ghosts of Ukuthula
Author: Rick McBee
Genre: Action/Historical/World Literature
Review: The opening of The Ghosts of Ukuthula was great, there is politic intrigue, espionage and murder all in the opening chapter and I was hooked. We start the story in Durban, South Africa in October 1989, this immediately suggests to me as a reader that there will be time and location skips in the duration of this novel. We also meet Dirk Van Zyl, an intelligence agent during an information meeting with the Russians about disrupting the transfer of power to black leaders.
We then meet Jacob Nkwe in Pretoria working to stop Petrov’s plot to destroy the peaceful transfer of power to black majority rule when his office is attacked and their intel destroyed. Jacob luckily has a copy of information but he is now running for his life. As he travelling in disguise through the slums Jacob not only has to put up with being hunted by the depravity and desperation of the lower class people. I loved seeing how well known Petrov is and along with the Africans and Russians the Americans are also introduced. It was very interesting to see Petrov’s plan and how the Americans among other intend to fight against him. This political game of cat and mouse was brilliant to witness with Petrov running circle around everyone trying to stop and capture him. I usually don’t like historical or political novel but this one literally had me on the edge of my seat from the first page.
As we approach the ¼ mark in the novel we re-join Jacob in his ghost mode buried deep under cover waiting for the dust to settle before he tries taking on Petrov again. Jacob in drawn into several jobs and operation with ghosting but a potential romance may make things a little more difficult than he first planned for. I liked how McBee constantly changes the locations and points of view because the novel never gets stale there is always something going on with one or more of the factions we are reading about. I loved watching how Petrov uses his soldiers like chess pieces; strategically and methodically everyone single person serves a purpose within the whole operations. Petrov is ruthless and cunning and makes a very good character in his portrayal. As the American try to keep up with Petrov and anticipate his next move they practically run themselves into the ground as Petrov keeps himself several steps ahead of them.
As we cross the ¼ mark in the novel I have to say that despite the constantly changing locations and perspectives the novel is surprisingly easy to follow and the fast pace and extraordinary amount of action makes the novel a very quick read. I really enjoyed learning about the different cultures, people and religious practises in Africa where the majority of this novel is set. I also really liked that every character no matter how minor is well fleshed out and has a very distinct and unique voice. As time is running out for the Americans to stop Petrov I was wondering what they would pull out in their attempt. Jacob was been ghosting in Africa is discovered by the diamond smugglers he has been working for but they agree to help him on the condition he kills a spy leaking information to the police and this woman turns out to be the one he is sleeping with. The way McBee looks at the different factions of African society and the lengths people will go to in order to survive was absolutely divine and I couldn’t wait to see where he would take this novel.
As we approach the halfway mark in the novel life doesn’t get any easier for Jacob and once again he is forced to run for his life, he just prays he can live long enough to deliver the information about Petrov back home to America. I was very surprised that McBee could keep up the pace in this novel without losing hold of the story or the characters. There never seems to be a moments rest for the characters or the reader. Many different people seems to be after Jacob now and they are hot on his heels and there is nothing the Americans can do for him but he doesn’t know this. My heart has been in my mouth for almost the entirety of this novel and I don’t know how much more my heart can take. While Jacob is trying to outsmart the people chasing him and reach his destination alive we see the Americans trying to help by sourcing some contacts locally that may be able to help Jacob return himself and the data home safely.
As we cross into the second half of the novel McBee steps back from Jacob’s story arc and introduces us to Jacques who is the man the US government have hired to track down and retrieve Jacob. I loved the relationship McBee creates and the uniquely interwoven story arcs it just makes for the perfect evening read. He also introduces a dual storyline between Jacques and Grobler which could have some very interesting consequences later on in the novel. Just like I suspected when Petrov reappears in the novel it is only to cause more death and destruction in the name of his cause and we fear for Jacob and I was beginning to question whether he and the others helping him would make it out alive. McBee has created so my factions and character plotting and double crossing one another it is a little difficult at times to keep track of who is working for who but it doesn’t make it any less entertaining.
As we approach the 3/4 mark in the novel Jacques managed to get to Jacob’s location but Grobler is already there making the situation quite difficult and they get out but no without several bullets flying and an explosion. All the while Sue is still at the hotel where Petrov is now staying. With Grobler still on their tail Jacob and Jacques are trying to get somewhere where they can contact Sue to arrange help with their pickup. While Sue believes she isn’t on the Russians radar the Russians are looking for her and just haven’t realized who she is but I have a feeling once they do they will kill her as soon as they can. I honestly couldn’t believe that Grobler was still alive and was very satisfied when he final meet his end. Once again, as I predicted Sue is kidnapped by the Russians and Jacques is quick to take charge on a patrol looking for her but Petrov may be looking to bargain Sue for the diamonds he needs to fund his operations.
As we cross into the final section of the novel I was eager to see how McBee would wrap up this amazingly action packed, gritty novel. Jacques does get extremely close to getting Sue back but the Russians are too quick and are in the air before Jacques has a clear shot at them. As we draw into the last 50 pages of the novel we see everyone gearing up for the finale, with Petrov moving him plan into motion, Jacques trying to rescue Sue and Jacob and Collins trying to stop Petrov before it’s too late. Despite the tension and suspense being sky high the events were moving in slow motion, everyone’s movements, everyone’s word held serious weight in the overall context of the novel. All I can say about the ending of this novel was it was fast paced, action filling and completely gripping.
Overall, I found The Ghosts of Ukuthula to be an utterly compelling novel from beginning to end. The way McBee looks at race, politics, the human complex and so many other things keep me on the edge of my seat trying to work out who would win right up until the final page. Highly recommend to all.
This book was sent to me for review by the author
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