Sarah and her husband, Peter, hire a troubled, charismatic guide named Max for their Kenyan safari trip, which also includes another American couple. Sarah navigates her troubled marriage and her conflicted feelings toward Max while observing the wilds of the savanna. Her decision to stay behind once the trip ends leads her to examine what she truly wants and who and what ultimately make her life worth living.
The strongest passages in Susan St. John’s book, MAD MISCHIEF, are the many that narrate the safaris. There are real moments of beauty in the details and drama of the animals and nature of Kenya. It’s clear that a lot of research has gone into this book, which also gives interesting background about important photographers, sociologists, and scientists who have studied Kenya’s terrain. The book is also impressively proofread, to the point of being almost completely error-free.
However, the pacing and characterizations in St. John’s novel are less successful. The book is overly long at more than 450 pages, with the first 400 or so not containing as much plot movement as the final chapter and epilogue, which include far too much summary. The characters all have similar and fairly familiar backstories and, with the exception of Sarah, don’t change or grow in any way from the book’s start to finish. Because the characters lack depth, their motivation is difficult to understand. The ending contains a plot twist that explains much of Sarah’s motivation, but it comes so late as to feel tacked on. There is so much we simply don’t understand about her in the hundreds of pages that proceed the explanation, that the reader spends far too much time wondering why she is doing the things she does—not so much with intrigue, but more with confusion.
MAD MISCHIEF is an enjoyable way to go on an armchair safari and immerse yourself in the Kenyan wilds, but leaves far too much character development until the very final pages, by which time readers looking for good characters and a fast-moving plot may well have given up.
~R.T. Beach for IndieReader