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'Stalking Ivory' good, clean fun

“Stalking Ivory,” by Suzanne Arruda. Obsidian. 2007. 356 pp. $14 paperback.By Cynthia Murphy
For the Salisbury Post
Fun is probably the best way to describe Suzanne Arruda’s “Stalking Ivory.”
Set in British East Africa in 1920, the novel features a fast-paced story with plenty of action. It is a good, old-fashioned mystery with a charming cast of characters.
“Stalking Ivory” is the second novel in the Jade del Cameron series, but it can easily be read with no prior knowledge of the series.
Arruda has an appealing heroine in the character of Jade del Cameron. Although she comes from a privileged background, Jade prefers a life of adventure. She is working as a photojournalist in British East Africa when her party stumbles onto a group of mutilated elephants and a murdered soldier.
The scene angers Jade and raises her suspicion regarding a nearby group of hunters. There are rumors about Abyssinian poachers and slave raiders, but Jade believes the German hunters are hiding something.
Then the Kikuyu boy from Jade’s party disappears, and Jade becomes even more determined to track down the poachers. With a combination of spunk, stubbornness and charm, she manages to solve the intertwined mysteries.
Jade is a woman far ahead of her time. Before her journalism career, she served as an ambulance driver in World War I. She is an independent woman who breaks the rules regarding women’s roles in society. Arruda gives Jade a smart, witty voice that matches her strong will. At times she seems reminiscent of some of the characters in Ernest Hemingway’s short stories.
Arruda does focus much of her energy developing Jade. As a result, none of the other characters seem to be particularly well-developed. However, the quirky mix of safari leaders, African natives, British nobility and a grounded American pilot blend into a lively cast.
The lack of development in the secondary characters is only a minor flaw in this type of book. They are just that, secondary characters. Their purpose is usually to advance the plot or further the character development of Jade. The lack of emphasis on any other character also helps maintain the mystery regarding the mastermind of the poaching scheme.
The plot unfolds quickly, but Arruda does manage to include sweeping descriptions of the African landscape and its wildlife. Her accounts are thoughtful and well-researched. The description of an old elephant’s final battle with the poachers is both beautiful and chilling.
Although the outcome of the battle is a foregone conclusion, Arruda’s attention to detail lends poignancy to the violent scene. Her writing is actually at its best when she is depicting the animals or creating snappy dialogue for Jade.
Fans of classic mysteries (think Agatha Christie) will enjoy “Stalking Ivory.” The plot has an unexpected twist at the end, and the novel has a nice, quick pace. The romantic setting of Africa circa 1920 provides a brief escape from the modern world.
Quite simply, it is just a fun read. And in the character of Jade del Cameron, Arruda has created a vibrant, engaging heroine that is sure to be a fan favorite.
Cynthia Murphy is an avid reader of all genres.

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