When Tony Park’s The cull was sent to me for review last September, I knew it wasn’t really within my normal ambit but every now and then I try something new, so thought I might give it a go. However, as time passed and more books came, I realised that I had to let it go. But, it occurred to me that Mr Gums, whose reading preferences are a little different to mine, might like to read it during our annual Snowy Mountains getaway. He thought he might so, leaving aside his German translation of Pride and prejudice (which he was reading for the second time), he took it away with him – and enjoyed it, overall.
Some of you may know who Tony Park is, but I have to admit that I didn’t – beyond recognising his name from bookshop shelves – even though The cull is his fourteenth novel! He was born in Sydney, and has worked, according to the media release, “as a reporter, a press secretary, a PR consultant and a freelance writer”. He is a major in the Australian Army Reserve and in 2002 served as a public relations officer in Afghanistan. And, here’s the most relevant bit to this book, he and his wife split their time between Australia and southern Africa where they own a home on the edge of Kruger National Park. He is also, the Media Release says, a volunteer with Veterans for Wildlife, which “pairs military veterans with anti-poaching units and conservation programs in Africa.”
And this is where I should finally talk about the book. It concerns former mercenary Sonja Kurtz, who has apparently appeared in other books by Park. She is hired by a (female, in fact) business tycoon to head a squad whose ostensible task is to gain intelligence about poachers but she ultimately finds herself involved in a full-scale assault against the “poaching kingpins”. In other words, it’s a novel which marries his military experience with his involvement in supporting African wildlife. The Media Release says that Park describes “the job of protecting wildlife” as “a high-risk, high stakes business”. Rhino horn is now worth more than “gold, diamonds or cocaine”.
So what did Mr Gums think? “Pretty good fun”, he says. Like me, he’s not an expert in the crime-action-thriller genres, but he’s read the odd one over the years, including, last year, Tony Jones’ The twentieth man. He thought the characters were well drawn for the genre, and that the writing was engaging and kept him interested. It was full of “gadgets and guns” which entertained him, but had perhaps “unnecessarily detailed descriptions of the sex”. However, that’s part of these sorts of genre books today isn’t it? You find it in movies of these genres too.
Overall, though, it was the theme of protecting African wildlife and environment that made it particularly interesting for him – just as Jones’ exploration of Australia’s first terrorist bombing kept him engaged in that novel. This is what would have drawn me to the book too, if I’d been able to prioritise the read.
And so, that’s about it – except there’s one interesting little thing to add, and it concerns naming rights. I’ll quote from the Acknowledgements at the end:
As with previous books, I’ve surrendered the difficult (for me at least), the task of thinking up names for my characters to a number of worthy charities who have sold or auctioned off rights for generous people to have their names assigned to the cast of The cull and raised money for many good causes in the process.
Those good causes are named, and they are a varied lot, including the HEAL Africa Hospital, the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, the Australian Rhino Project and the Limpopo Rhino Security Group. I, and probably you, have heard about this phenomenon before, but if you haven’t, here is a 2005 article from the Guardian about authors auctioning off names. It starts by asking “Fancy having your name on a gravestone in Neil Gaiman’s next novel? Or meeting your end at the hands of a zombie in Stephen King’s latest?” Hmm, would you want to be immortalised in some of these ways? There is that thin-end-of-the-wedge issue here – as I touched on in my review of Anna Funder’s Paspaley sponsored story Everything precious – but I don’t think we should let this colour actions like Cull’s which result in money for good causes?
And here endeth this mini-review – with a big thanks to Mr Gums for his contribution.
Sydney: Pan Macmillan Australia, 2017
(Review copy courtesy Pan Macmillan Australia)