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Sunday, December 13, 2009


Peter J Earle follows his debut novel with explosive tale set in war-torn Mozambique. (Review by Caroline Smart)

“Four tons of strategically placed high explosive lies waiting. Who will push the button?”

This is the question Peter J Earle poses in his latest book The Barros Pawns which follows his successful debut novel, Purgatory Road. Set again in southern Africa – this time in Mozambique – it lands the reader slap bang in the throes of revolutionary warfare as Frente de Liberteçao de Moçambique (Frelimo) fights for the country’s independence from Portugal.

“Six South Africans and four Rhodesians all of high rank, were aware of all the details. All had the highest security ratings. One officer amongst them was to prove that his rating was undeserved.”

The novel is fast-moving and well-written with fascinating twists and turns as the writer spins this tale of greed for power. It was a challenging read for me as logistics are not my forte and you need to get your head around who’s who and who’s where and who’s double-dealing who. So I have to admit to getting a bit lost among the protagonists. However, those who are fascinated with strategies, manoeuvres and sub-plots – like my husband - will definitely enjoy The Barros Pawns.

The opening chapter takes us straight to the floodplains of the lower Rift Valley where two Rhodesian Special Air Services men who have been released from border duty are setting up Operation Insurance. This will include a group of skydivers joining up as mercenaries for a special assignment in Mozambique but what for most of them starts off as a bit of a lark becomes a nightmare. The adrenalin rush turns to confusion and terror as this handful of men desperately try to stop the detonation that will ignite southern Africa

The storyline stays mainly with Geoffrey Nourse and Dan McNeil who we meet as they parachute into a record star format jump. Peter J Earle himself has over 60 parachute jumps to his credit so he knows what he’s talking about. Then there’s the beautiful Manuela, with whom Geoffrey has had carefree liaisons, who suddenly turns possessive and her actions take on a sinister turn.

In his author’s note, Peter J Earle states that he once heard a rumour that a wealthy Portuguese businessman was recruiting troops for his own army to fight Frelimo but never found any proof to substantiate this. Thus he asserts that, to the best of his knowledge, the characters of the story are purely from his own imagination. But who knows? Perhaps there might have been an Operation Insurance or one like it buried in secret files somewhere?

As with Purgatory Road set in what was then Rhodesia, Peter J Earle’s knowledge and understanding of the terrain is strong and he describes it well. His wry ironic dialogue and narration introduces much humour into this story of war, revenge and double-dealing.

The Barros Pawns is published in softback by PJE Publishing and is available from all good bookstores nationwide and online at at R165. ISBN 978-0-620-42882-8 – Caroline Smart