Friday, February 21, 2014

Frank Coates Whispers About Africa

When Dan Sullivan signs up to fight the Boers at the turn of the century, he finds much more than an adventure in British East Africa. Between the horrors of war and the men who run it, it isn't long before the young Queensland drover decides he has had enough.

He deserts the army with an intent to start over and old Bill Freeman turns out to be the right man to help him do it. Freeman, who had originally invited his son to join him in Africa to start a farm together, immediately discovers a taste for something much different than plowing fields.

In the golden era of the great white hunter, Freeman believes the time is right to start a safari. He also believes that Sullivan's experience in the bush and with a rifle could give him an edge. Freeman doesn't care that Sullivan is a deserter, mostly because the boy proves early on that the decision was something other than a lack of bravery.

A fictional expose at a dangerous time in history. 

Freeman and Sullivan get a good enough start together, attempting to entice rich big game hunters to Africa. And as partners, Sullivan spends considerable time with the Freeman family, including the young and impressionable granddaughter Liz Freeman, who develops a crush on him.

But well before she can make her affections known, tragedy strikes the family and forces Liz to return to Australia. The separation sets both of them on different paths — with Sullivan attempting to keep the cash-challenged safari afloat and Liz attending college and attracting new suitors.

All of this changes again with the outbreak of the Great War. Sullivan finds himself running the safari on his own. Liz sees her engagement to an Australian-born German broken so he can enlist and prove his loyalty to the British Empire.

Unattached and unwilling to live with her grandmother any longer, Liz sets out for Africa again. She expects to reunite with her remarried mother and reconnect with Sullivan to relieve him of her grandfather's safari. When she does find him, these two old acquaintances discover something has come between them.

Overall, the novel provides an interesting glimpse of complicated old-world nationalism in the early 1900s and the wilds of Africa. There are also scores of scenes and passages that Coates convincingly brings to life, even if they sometimes lack the cohesion of a novel (beyond being a series of linear happenings). At the same time, the story brings dozens of socio-political issues into perspective even if they aren't always presented with a clear sense of purpose.

A couple of graphs about author Frank Coates. 

Much like protagonist Dan Sullivan, Coates was born in Australia and ran away to Africa. But that is where many of the similarities end. Coates, who was 45, joined the United Nations in Nairobi. Later, he transferred to the shores of Lake Victoria and married a Tanzanian of the Nyamwezi tribe.

The experience was life changing for the ex-Telecom engineer. Although he had worked in both Malaysia and Papua New Guinea, he never felt more at home than he did in Africa. When his contract with the United Nations ended, he found work as a consultant in countries from Kenya to Swaziland and from Mozambique to Botswana. He returned to Australia years later and started his writing career.

Whisper At Dawn By Frank Coates Hunts 3.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Whisper At Dawn is a well-written novel despite its uneven storytelling. Overall, the challenges can be largely attributed to Coates never truly deciding whether the story belongs to Liz or Sullivan. Likewise, his presentations of Africa and Australia are lopsided, with one described in lavish detail and the other left bleak in comparison. One wonders if he would have better served the story by staying with Sullivan and Africa throughout, which is where his most passionate passages prevail.

Whisper At Dawn by Frank Coates can be ordered from Barnes & Noble. You can also find the novel on Amazon or download the book for iBooks. The audiobook is available on iTunes and is narrated by David Tredinnick. Tredinnick does a fine job with telling. He gives the story the tone of an afternoon reading.
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