Legacy of War by Wilbur Smith (with David Churchill): Hard-hitting violence, nail-biting suspense and domestic drama - book review -
From the dawn of the 17th century right through to the 20th century, we have witnessed the fortunes and misfortunes of the sprawling and ambitious Courtney family as they negotiate war, social upheaval and the dark side of history.
Their creator is the phenomenally successful South African author Wilbur Smith whose thrilling novels have sold over 130 million worldwide, and whose full-time writing career began in 1964 with the publication of When the Lion Feeds.
Fifty-seven years later, the 88-year-old shows no sign of flagging in this thrilling post-war sequel to Courtney’s War, written once again with The Leopards of Normandy trilogy author David Churchill, and starring the feisty, fearless Saffron Courtney and her husband Gerhard von Meerbach, whose enduring love has survived the horrors of wartime against incredible odds.
Saffron grew up on the vast Lusima Estate in Kenya under the watchful eye of her father Leon Courtney, a prominent businessman and distinguished war veteran, but her thirst for knowledge and adventure led her to England and into the arms of the idealistic and principled German Gerhard.
He is the younger brother of Konrad von Meerbach, heir to an industrial fortune and an avid Nazi-supporter who has survived the war and is determined to continue Hitler’s evil legacy and regain the nationalist party’s lost power.
Moving from the austerity and rationing of 1950s London to Germany, struggling to get back on its feet after the devastation of the war years, and on to Africa where dangerous cracks in the British Empire’s foothold in Kenya are spilling over into bloodshed, this is a torrid tale of rebellion, intrigue, revenge and terror.
In the summer of 1951, the war is over and Hitler is dead, but there are those who will not accept that this is the end of the road for the Nazis.
Saffron Courtney Meerbach and her beloved husband Gerhard only just survived the brutal conflict. Saffron was recruited by the Special Operations Executive in London and diced with death and danger in occupied Belgium.
Gerhard was a Luftwaffe pilot fighting for the Fatherland and was thrown into the hellish attrition of the Battle of Stalingrad before he was packed off to a concentration camp when his secret objections to the Nazi regime were exposed.
Their plans now are to travel to Germany for some unfinished business before heading back to the Courtney family home and estate in Kenya and be reunited with Saffron’s father Leon, and their children, Zander, four, and Kiki, two.
But in Germany, they discover that Gerhard’s brother, Konrad – who was a willing and trusted subordinate of ruthless Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich during the war years – is still free and determined to regain power.
As a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse develops, a plot against the couple begins to stir. One that will have ramifications throughout Europe…
And back in Kenya, the last outcrop of the British Empire is feeling the stirrings of rebellion. As the situation becomes violent, and the Courtney family home comes under threat from the local Kikuyu tribe who work on his sprawling Lusima Estate, Leon Courtney finds himself caught between two powerful sides… and a battle for the freedom of the country he loves.
Legacy of War, a suspense-packed, two-stranded tale is set in a turbulent time period when there was still a residue of hardened Nazis working to reignite the flame of brutal dominance, and in Kenya, the Mau Mau uprising was wreaking chaos and terror in a bitter war against colonial oppression.
A prominent figure from the Kenyan insurgency – activist and politician Jomo Kenyatta who governed Kenya as Prime Minister and then its first President from 1964 until 1978 – is featured alongside a superbly imagined cast of fictional characters.
And at the heart of all the action are the loyal and ever-fascinating Courtney family, the one constant in Smith’s cracking adventures which seamlessly harness real history and use it as a rich and vivid backdrop for tales full of hard-hitting violence, nail-biting suspense and domestic drama.
Gritty, gripping, and written all over with the author’s finesse and style, this is another Courtney class act from a master storyteller.
(Zaffre, hardback, £20)