________________ CM . . . . Volume VI Number 15 . . . . March 31, 2000

cover Smoke That Thunders.

PJ Reece.
Saskatoon: Thistledown Press, 1999.
164 pp., pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 1-895449-88-X.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
Review by Kristin Butcher.

*** /4


"David retreated to the river and the protection of the boathouse where he thought of his father - the loser. Sure, if you consider car rallying to be the end-all, then Errol had died short of his goal. But David knew that he was proud of what he'd accomplished. He'd confided in him - a son that loved him was all the victory he needed, he'd said. Just keep on loving me. David felt the same with Changwe. Car or no car, he loved the old man's dream of seeing Mosi-O-Tunya. Changwe's desire had crept into him, he thought, as sure as elephant grass grew through the engine of the Mercedes.

He remained in the boathouse and watched Pepsi as she measured the flow of the river. The Changwes had to live with the consequences, thought David, while his problems were those of a tourist. These events would rise like memory bubbles off the timeline of his life, then pop and be gone forever. Did it matter if he turned himself in or broke through the border or remained huddled like a water rat in this shed for the rest of his life? Thoughts like these bounced around the inside of his skull until they triggered an explosive fantasy - the ultimate road race featuring a four-wheel drive Gelandewagon hurtling over a sand dune, hell bent for somewhere near Timbuktu. Errol's dream. David, the keeper other people's dreams, would never get it out of his mind."

From practically the first sentence of this novel, the reader is propelled along with sixteen-year-old David Livingstone on an impulsive adventure to Africa and ultimately Victoria Falls, better known to the locals as Mosi-O-Tunya or Smoke That Thunders. Initially, David's decision to slip the traces seems initiated by a need to prove something to his girlfriend. Acquiring the necessary airline ticket is a simple matter of flashing his passport and his mother's credit card; however, David's deceit is soon discovered, and before he even lands in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, he finds himself under house arrest, to be returned to Vancouver on the next departing plane. But a visit to the airport washroom provides David with an opportunity for escape - which he takes.

At this point, the theme from "Mission Impossible" starts to play, and the chase is on - for 147 more pages! Peopled with a supporting cast of characters reminiscent of Damon Runyan, the novel sends David running, rolling, swimming, and flying from authorities, while simultaneously hurtling him toward Mosi-O-Tunya. There is Mr. Ngoma, the Minister of Highways, who sings, steals parts from automotive road kill, and provides David with an impromptu flying lesson. There is also Manon, a transplanted French-Canadian, motorcycle-riding, self-ordained priest of questionable scruples, as well as Angel Bukoba, a "Barney Fife" clone, and Mr. Changwe, a lovable one-legged dreamer whose yard is filled with American memorabilia. And if there is a chance of a dull moment, it is a safe bet that Albert and Sadarji will show up to hijack any tires that aren't tied down.

At times, the story seems like a "Keystone Cops" rewrite - a lot of fun, but is the reader really supposed to take any of it seriously? However, as the story winds down, the reader is reminded why David Livingtsone set out on this adventure in the first place. Amid the confusion he has created, he finds a way to bring order to his life.

Rich in imagery, funny, and packed with action, this story should appeal to today's teens.


Kristin Butcher lives in Victoria, BC, and writes for children.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364