Wednesday, October 10, 2018

CHOP IT UP: Stalking Ivory (Jade del Cameron #2) by Suzanne Arruda

Former World War I ambulance driver, Jade del Cameron, is on her second assignment inside the wild expanse of Africa.  As a writer and photographer of the travel magazine, The Traveler, Jade, with the company of her best friend and best friend’s husband, set up camp in British East African to capture photographs of the surrounding elephant population.  Unfortunately, while on assignment, her and her pals run across the bodies of a poached herd of elephants, as well as the body of an askari man, a soldier of the King’s African Rifles.  Closer investigations reveal the solider was murdered while in defense of the herd–whose tusks were all removed and stolen.  It’s a crime that sets a blaze of determination for justice within Jade.  And it leads her into the secular realms of poachers, possible German axis powers in the African forests, caches of weaponry, and more murders.

I gave Stalking Ivory three starts.  It started off great with Jade and her comrades finding the pile of poached elephant bodies alongside the murdered askari, whose job was to police the ins and outs of poaching and exploration up and down the landscape of this particular area of Africa.  Anyway, a murder in the first 100 pages of a mystery (however the hook/theme goes) is always a plus for me.  It gives me–as the reader–a mystery and mission to keep turning pages for answers.  And I say that because this book spends a great deal of time busying itself with other things.  And I mean busy, occupied, and vigorously branching in multiple directions of topics to explore with little threading to connect them all as one, and on into the actual murder mystery.  The investigation into elephant poaching: CHECKED.  The review of Africa: CHECKED.  The survey of Germans after WWI:  CHECKED.  Ghostly African priest with all the answers, but helps with squat:  CHECKED.  Love triangle: DOUBLE DOG CHECKED.  But wait, how exactly does all this relate again?

Characters were going back and forth and back and forth and back and forth between locations to the point where I was just... well... freakin' lost without direction as well.  It read like a mad dash to the next location along the African wild lands, only for said location to read like the previous despite the author's embellishments.  Equally, the character quarrels with one another lost me, though I appreciated the author's attempt at giving them developments (pregnancy, movie star dreams, etc.).  As for Jade herself, she came across as an exaggeration (though the inner me loved it) as she leaped up trees, stripped a cache of guns, performed steller CQC moves on villains, disassembled traps, and climbed rough volcanic terrain.  Oh, and furthered her kinship with a pet Cheetah, as well as a played the surrogate guardian to an "enthusiastic to please" African teen who has accompanied her since the previous book.

Stalking Ivory was just really, really busy.  The author unquestionably loves the setting, topics and characters, but to the point where the actual mystery got lost (to me anyway) in all the grandeur and glory.  And while I had my suspicions very early on concerning who the villain was, I think one of the remedies for getting around all the glory of Jade and the book's setting was if the villain appeared more than twice within the investigative process.  Why?  To keep readers on track concerning who were all the players in this drama before tossing in that last, frantic card at its end.  Because believe me when I say, with all the other characters running around quipping as they go, hardly anything regarding the investigative process made connective sense.  Equally, nor did many of the character's responses and actions.

Nevertheless, it’s all in good fun.  An enjoyable story all the same, although I was exhausted by its end. Pleasant setting, though kind of hard to really imagine at times with all the "movement" in the story.  Pretty compelling main character though pushed to the verge of being snug and unbelievable.  Relatively cool side characters to fuel dialogue and interactions, though annoying at times.  Yet still an unstable and jaunty mystery overall.  One that needed a stronger foundation, extraction of repeated topics/scenes, and better cohesiveness for what was available concerning the procedural aspect.  Will I move on to the next book?  

Absolutely!  Stalking Ivory left on an exciting note as Jade's mother has gone missing in Marocco.  So sign me the F UP! 

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