The Lioness

by Chris Bohjalian

Kirkus An actress and her entourage are kidnapped by Russians in Bohjalian’s uneven thriller. In 1964, Hollywood’s gossip rags are agog as movie star Katie Barstow marries gallerist David Hill and takes her inner circle along on her honeymoon. And an adventuresome honeymoon it is—on safari in the Serengeti with aging big-game hunter Charlie Patton, who once helped Hemingway bag trophies. But Katie is not the star of this ensemble piece. The populous cast—a who’s who at the beginning is indispensable—includes Katie’s publicist, Reggie Stout; her agent, Peter Merrick; her best friend, Carmen Tedesco, a supporting actress who plays wisecracking sidekicks; and Terrance Dutton, Katie's recent co-star, a Black actor who's challenging Sidney Poitier's singularity in Hollywood. With obvious nods to Hemingway’s worst fear—masculine cowardice—Bohjalian adds in Felix Demeter, Carmen’s husband, a B-list screenwriter who reminds his wife of Hemingway’s weakling Francis Macomber. Felix seems a superfluous double of David, who feels inadequate because Katie is the breadwinner and his father is CIA. Then there’s Katie’s older brother, Billy Stepanov, whose abuse at the hands of their mother shaped the psychologist he is today; Billy’s pregnant wife, Margie; and Benjamin Kikwete, an apprentice safari guide. Thus, a proliferation of voices whose competing perspectives fragment rather than advance the story. The kidnapping plot seems less designed to test each character’s mettle than to exercise Bohjalian’s predilection for minute descriptions of gore. The most heartfelt portrayal here is of the Serengeti and its flora and fauna, but none of the human characters net enough face time to transcend their typecasting. The motives behind the kidnapping might have lent intrigue to the proceedings, but foreshadowing is so slight that the infodump explainer at the end leaves us shocked, mostly at how haphazard the plot is. Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Book list Katie Barstow, Hollywood’s hottest young actress, plans her honeymoon as a Serengeti safari and invites her brother, sister-in-law, and a coterie of industry friends and colleagues to come along. It’s the mid-1960s, and the pampered travelers drop into a world roiled by geopolitical crises as the grip of colonialism is being challenged by Native uprisings, each side manipulated by Russian and U.S. counterintelligence agencies mired in escalating Cold War tensions. No sooner do their guides set up camp then they are overtaken by kidnappers, and those who are not immediately killed or tortured are taken hostage. The travelers are oblivious to these outside forces, however, and naively cling to the belief that rescue is at hand. She’s Katie Barstow, after all. The novel’s opening action may burst forth with a deadly ambush but Bohjalian doesn’t blindside loyal readers who have come to expect his signature combination of exotic locations, titillating characters, and energetic pacing. Stark and dark, violent and vivid, this may be versatile Bohjalian’s most harrowing work since Skeletons of the Feast (2008). Intimately researched, the Serengeti’s beauty and brutality are vibrantly infused in every scene, a grounding counterpoint to the competing dynamics of human cruelty and compassion.

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.

Library Journal Another tour de force from Bohjalian (The Hour of the Witch; The Flight Attendant). It is 1964, and the Simba rebellion is in full force in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. American starlet Katie Barstow has everything: a flourishing acting career, a handsome new husband, a caring brother, good friends, a talented agent, and a gifted publicist. When Katie plans a special honeymoon safari in the Serengeti for her close-knit group of Hollywood royalty, they jokingly refer to themselves as the lions of Hollywood. They aren't worried about rebellion in the Congo; after all, Kenya is miles away from the perilous fighting. Everyone considers Katie the "lioness" in charge, but that changes when Russian mercenaries with assault rifles hijack their idyllic vacation. While the characters travel through the Congolese landscape, readers tour the lives of the entourage. We glimpse their true motivations, strengths, and weaknesses under extreme duress. The Hollywood elite become the hunted as their instinctual fight for survival takes priority over all else. VERDICT Fans of character-driven narratives will relish traipsing through both the Central African savannah and the souls and psyches of Bohjalian's characters.—K.L. Romo

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Kirkus An actress and her entourage are kidnapped by Russians in Bohjalians uneven thriller.In 1964, Hollywoods gossip rags are agog as movie star Katie Barstow marries gallerist David Hill and takes her inner circle along on her honeymoon. And an adventuresome honeymoon it ison safari in the Serengeti with aging big-game hunter Charlie Patton, who once helped Hemingway bag trophies. But Katie is not the star of this ensemble piece. The populous casta whos who at the beginning is indispensableincludes Katies publicist, Reggie Stout; her agent, Peter Merrick; her best friend, Carmen Tedesco, a supporting actress who plays wisecracking sidekicks; and Terrance Dutton, Katie's recent co-star, a Black actor who's challenging Sidney Poitier's singularity in Hollywood. With obvious nods to Hemingways worst fearmasculine cowardiceBohjalian adds in Felix Demeter, Carmens husband, a B-list screenwriter who reminds his wife of Hemingways weakling Francis Macomber. Felix seems a superfluous double of David, who feels inadequate because Katie is the breadwinner and his father is CIA. Then theres Katies older brother, Billy Stepanov, whose abuse at the hands of their mother shaped the psychologist he is today; Billys pregnant wife, Margie; and Benjamin Kikwete, an apprentice safari guide. Thus, a proliferation of voices whose competing perspectives fragment rather than advance the story. The kidnapping plot seems less designed to test each characters mettle than to exercise Bohjalians predilection for minute descriptions of gore. The most heartfelt portrayal here is of the Serengeti and its flora and fauna, but none of the human characters net enough face time to transcend their typecasting. The motives behind the kidnapping might have lent intrigue to the proceedings, but foreshadowing is so slight that the infodump explainer at the end leaves us shocked, mostly at how haphazard the plot is.Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Publishers Weekly In 1964, Hollywood star Katie Barstow and her Rodeo Drive gallerist husband head to Tanzania for a safari honeymoon, along with an assortment of family and friends, in this devastatingly cunning suspense novel from bestseller Bohjalian (Hour of the Witch). The group includes Katie’s psychologist brother and sister-in-law, an agent, a publicist, an actor and her screenwriter husband, and Katie’s costar in a scandalous film. Shepherded by a private guide in Land Rovers in the Serengeti, they take photos of giraffes, elephants, lions, and wildebeests, while a slew of porters and cooks provide such amenities as waterproof canvas bathtubs, a kerosene-powered ice maker, and a sufficient supply of gin and tonic. The idyll for Katie and crew comes to an end after they become the target of Russian mercenaries, who hold them captive in abandoned huts. Worse follows, including fatal snake bites. Bohjalian does a superb job of judiciously rolling out information of how past transgressions may have led to the heart-stopping episodes of chaos and carnage as the shocking, twist-filled plot builds up to the revelation of “the real reasons for the safari nightmare.” This brilliant whydunit is not to be missed. Agent: Deborah Schneider, Gelfman Schneider Literary. (May)

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Library Journal In 1964, top-of-the-heap white actress Katie Barstow honeymoons in the Serengeti with new husband David Hill and a bunch of their glittery Hollywood friends, including distinguished Black actor Terrance Dutton, with whom Katie starred in a controversy-sparking film. They're looking forward to a luxurious safari watching the giraffes and the wildebeest play and guzzling gin with ice from kerosene-powered ice makers. Instead, they get kidnapped, with Soviet mercenaries shuffling them into Land Rovers, leveling guns at their heads, as their Tanzanian guides lie bleeding in the dirt. Will they all survive? Different from the 1660s Boston-set Hour of the Witch , the HBO-blessed The Flight Attendant, and the topical Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, with Bohjalian doing what he does best: surprising us. For suspense readers as well as those who love historical fiction and women's stories, plus literary readers with a desire for adventure and great language.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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