Fresh Meat: The Delta by Tony Park

The Delta is a thriller by Tony Park set in Africa about Sonja Kurtz, an ex-assassin turned mercenary who's hired to blow up a dam in Botswana (available October 7, 2014).

Modern Africa is a nation torn by tribal divisions, poverty, great riches and a fragile ecosystem. Sonja Kurtz is a woman in love with her nation as well as a trained mercenary and hired killer. Called back to her African childhood home for a job and secretly hoping to regain her first love, Stirling, she ends up in the middle of a botched assassination attempt. On the run after realizing that her target has been tipped off, she is filled with memories of her early life:

“Stirling, I love you, too, but I want to see the world. I want to do something with my life.” He’d tried to be cool, busying himself by putting another worm on the end of his hook, then casting it out into the Khwai River with a practiced flick of his wrist. “Stay,” he’d quietly pleaded as he reeled in the slack, watching the river’s surface, unable to look her in the eye. He’d suggested that she become a safari guide, but although she knew the bush almost as well as he, except for trees, which she found boring, she hated pandering to the needs of the tourists. Her dad, Hans, had been the manager of Xakanaxa Camp, until his drinking had become too much for the owners. Her mother had less patience and had gone back to England while Hans still muddled on, but Sonja had lingered, unwilling to abandon the old man, or Africa. In time, she’d become keen to do both. After losing his job at the camp her father had stayed in Maun, lost to his wife and daughter as surely as if he’d died. Perhaps he had. “You know I can’t handle the foreigners.” When she went into the bush she liked to go alone, or with Stirling. It was hard to describe. For her, going to the bush was like going to church was for her mother. She went into a kind of trance sometimes and felt as close as she ever would to believing, not in the existence of a supreme being, but in a sense of order and completeness in this otherwise fragmented world.

Sonja is a tough and unforgiving woman who has a softer side. She has a teenage daughter who thinks her mother is a bodyguard and resents her being away for most of the time. Sonja tells her daughter and herself that she must work in order to earn enough to keep them both safe and secure, but Sonja also realizes that she craves the excitement and even the violence of her job. She wants to find love, but the men she meets are all fighting their own wars. She can shoot a man, but when she must kill a horse after a lion attack, she cries.

When she saw the big lappet-faced vulture leave the tree and touch down in the grass, wings spread wide like a grotesque angel of death, she wanted to cry again. Why on earth would the death of a half-starved animal past its prime make her want to bawl, while the death of a human had little effect on her? How fucked up, how evil had she become since she’d left Stirling? She shook her head.

As Sonja continues with her mercenary work her path crosses with that of a television crew, filming a special on how a new dam will affect the people and wildlife of the area. But no one in this book is who they seem to be at first, and the layers of deceit, crossing, and secrets get unfolded and re-folded throughout the course of this thriller. Has Sonja been hired to start a war? To destroy the dam? Or is she just a pawn in a game she knows nothing about? Strap in and trust no one.

There is a lot to like about this book. There's action aplenty, and it keeps the reading guessing until the end. There's even a romance, although that may be the book's weakest element. I never truly bought into the chemistry between the two characters and with everything going on in the story, there's really no time for a relationship to develop and it felt a bit tacked on.

Tony Park has written many bestsellers published in his native Australia. He lives part of the year in Africa, and has a depth of knowledge and love for the continent that is apparent in his writing. Much of the politics in the book are based in fact, with his fictional dam based on a proposed project that was shelved after much protest. Readers who enjoy Taylor Stevens and Deon Meyer will find much to like in The Delta, and here's hoping more of his thrillers make it to America.

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Amy Dalton is a buyer for a large, Midwestern library system. She has written news and reviews for several book and film sites over the years.

Read all of Amy Dalton’s posts for Criminal Element.

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