Popular adventure novelist Smith sets his latest tale of the sprawling, ambitious Courtney family in British East Africa as the world gears up for World War I. After a dramatic trial-by-fire while on duty almost puts him before a firing squad, young boy wonder Leon Courtney trades a confining army experience for undercover work via his uncle. Courtney becomes a professional hunter and tour guide for the rich and well connected of the world, including sadistic European royalty and Teddy Roosevelt and son Kermit. The young guide’s spy duty is to gather information on clients, including Count Otto Von Meerbach, a German weapons manufacturer who is also plotting to raise a rebellion against British survivors of the Boer War.
Leon Courtney performs tasks in his dual life well, thanks in large part to his close association with the Batman and Robin of Masai warriors, Manyoro and Loikot, and Manyoro’s mystical mother, Lusima. Then Leon falls hard for the mysterious mistress of Meerbach who is also working undercover. Together they must foil a scheme the German hopes will put the continent of Africa in his country’s power.
Long on plot, adventure, and passionate knowledge of the flora and fauna of Africa but short on character development, the reader of Assegai will learn much about how to give “fair chase” and “humane kill” to elephants, lions, crocodiles, and buffalo but will need to be told that our hero’s “empathy with horses was intense.” Bones crunch and blood flows, but prim curtains are drawn before sex scenes and love is reduced to cloying cliché. Family conflicts are largely of the very familiar father/son variety while the press corps is once again in for a predictable drubbing.