The Prancing Jacana by Steven Jon Halasz
|The Prancing Jacana by Steven Jon Halasz|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A thriller which grabbed me and simply wouldn't let go until I'd finished the book and then I was still thinking about the characters. Top class and highly recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 258||Date: August 2017|
|External links: Author's website|
Mabel Pembrose's latest novel The Prancing Jacana has been on the New York Times bestseller list for a couple of weeks: her husband, Robert Bersley, isn't doing anything like as well. He writes children's books and his editor is adamant that as he's writing about Snake and Mouse, then Mouse has to be eaten by Snake, because that's how it works. Mabel's not completely free from problems though: her novel, set in Senegal, features Police Detective Salif Bampoky and he's gay in a country where same-sex sexual acts are outlawed and in consequence her book has been banned in the country. The fact that it's banned isn't harming her sales in the US at all, but Mabel - or rather Caroline Parker, as Mabel Pembrose is her pen name - isn't content with this. She's been to Senegal, loves the country and she'd like the book to be a bestseller there too.
And that's why she accepts an invitation to be part of a radio interview at the university in Dakar. She's independent-minded, but perhaps not as worldly wise as she thinks, which is why she's not taken much notice of the encounter with an Englishman who says that he's called Alan Bates but who's never heard of the actor of that name and who lives near Marble Arch but doesn't know what the London Eye is. She doesn't attach any significance to Haiden Stills either. For public consumption he's a writer - but in reality he's a hacker.
I wasn't many pages into The Prancing Jacana before I faced an ethical conundrum. Haiden Stills writes for Bookbag. The fact that my immediate reaction was that I hadn't taken him on will tell you how far I'd been absorbed into the story, but it pulled me up short and I began to consider whether or not I should be reviewing a book which mentioned a site of which I'm co-owner. Should I give the book to another reviewer - but then they'd have a similar problem. Then selfishness crept in: why deprive myself of the pleasure of reading a good book, or of telling other people just how good it is?
Because it is good. The pacing is excellent: I read it in a day and could then have turned back to the beginning and started again. I really liked the character of Caroline Parker, which surprised me as in my experience male authors don't usually do female protagonists quite so well. Steven Jon Halasz resists the temptation to make her too girly, concentrating instead on making her the writer who will do just about anything to increase her sales. She overshadows her husband, but then that would be the case in real life too. The most finely-drawn character is the man who might, or might not be called Alan Bates.
It's a twisty plot which has been well-constructed, but it looks at some serious points too: I was quite shocked when a Senegalese student asked a question which assumed that being homosexual was a lifestyle choice, neatly illustrating that LGBT rights in the country suffer not just from government decree but public ignorance. There are also interesting questions about just how far the US (or probably many other governments) will go to control its citizens. I kept telling myself it was only fiction, but that nagging doubt just wouldn't go away.
I'm hopeful that we'll hear more of Caroline Parker, but I'd like to thank the publisher for sending a copy of the book to the Bookbag.
Of late I've grown disenchanted with the thriller genre, but Halasz has restored my faith, as did The Cossack by K J Lawrence.
You can read more about Steven Jon Halasz here.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Prancing Jacana by Steven Jon Halasz at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Prancing Jacana by Steven Jon Halasz at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.