War Cry: A Courtney Family Novel

Written by David Churchill Wilbur Smith
Review by Waheed Rabbani

Saffron Courtney grows up in 1920s Kenya at the sprawling estate of her widowed father, Leon. She loves horses, takes part in show jumping, and plays polo at the gymkhana. Saffron later attends the prestigious Roedean School in South Africa and, subsequently, Oxford in England. Although friendly with the local white landowners and the Masai, Leon remains an enigma. It’s rumored that he was just a hunting guide when he met his wife, Eva. She had been the mistress of a wealthy German nobleman, Count von Meerbach, who died in a Zeppelin crash, but Eva had parachuted out. How Eva and Leon acquired all their wealth is still a mystery, and Saffron is shocked to hear the truth from her father. The plot thickens when Saffron meets Meerbach’s son, Gerhard, while on a skiing holiday in St. Moritz. They have to deal with not only their love, but also their past, and the blowing winds of WWII.

This fourteenth book in Wilbur Smith’s Courtney family saga reads like a stand-alone, as snippets of backstory are injected into passages where necessary. The events that precipitated WWII, chiefly those affecting West Africa, are presented in an interesting way by involving the Courtneys in the action. The British fascists’ viewpoints are highlighted via Leon’s brother’s reverence of their leader, Oswald Mosley, and its impact on the Courtneys’ business. Much like in a film, the story moves along rapidly between its numerous locales. The dialogue is crisp and humorous at times, and the scenes depicting life in Kenya, England, Germany and elsewhere transport us to those lands in an entertaining and informative way. Although the plot has some coincidences, they aren’t significant enough to affect readers’ enjoyment. The novel should interest fans of Ken Follett and other writers of epic historical sagas.