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It takes a very talented, confident and knowledgeable author to base an adventure/thriller story on the aftermath of the appalling 1994 Rwanda genocide. Only Australian author Tony Park can do this successfully using his knowledge, love and understanding of Africa and his great storytelling skills for the unusual things that can happen on that Continent.
The Rwandan genocide happened in 1994 when the minority Tutsi tribe brutally massacred literally hundreds of thousand of the majority Hutu tribe, who then took similarly brutal retribution on the Tutsi. While Dark Heart briefly focuses on the brutality of the time of retribution, it closely explores the lasting effect of the genocide on 3 members of the UN Peacekeeping force that was under orders not to intervene to curb the violence unless provoked.
Richard was a UK doctor attached to the Australian UN contingent who was involved in trying to save the lives of the multitude of injured. Liesl, a South African magazine photographer saw it all through the lense of her camera and captured a photo that would haunt all of their lives many years later. Away from the action, Carmel, an Australian Army legal officer had to cope with the stress of making sure that the UN rules of non intervention were followed. The emotional relationships between them was changed unalterably by what happened at that time.
Their memories of their experience in Rwanda had a permanent post traumatic effect on all of their future lives, including inabilities to form long term relationships, and alcohol and drug abuse to cover their memories. Frighteningly the past becomes the present again for all them when their lives are threatened when they become witnesses to the final legal investigations into the main perpetrators of the genocide.
This is work of fiction based on real life and Tony Park weaves a tangled web of action and intrigue moving from Thailand to Australia, South Africa, Zambia and finally Rwanda. Park's love and knowledge of Africa. its peoples and wildlife shines throughout the book.
I found it hard to give an appropriate ranking for this book. As always the African context was superb but the storytelling was not as taut and realistic as his other books and at times I had difficulty following the lives of the major players and some of the action was a bit unbelievable. I ended up just giving it a 4 star rating because, despite some shortcomings, it was a story that few authors could even start to tell.
I am a great fan of Tony Park's books (even keeping print copies of some in my post Kindle bookshelf). I must praise Pan Macmillan Australia for supporting Park (and other superb Australian novelists like Peter Watt) and hope that they can promote his work more widely internationally, especially in the US where the more historical African adventures of Wilbur Smith have long been best sellers.