School of the Ages



Posted by Matt Posner on February 6, 2014 at 5:00 PM

 I am especially honored to have had a chance to interact with Andrew McCoy, a real-life man of adventure and conscience who has written brutal and politically charged adventure novels since the late 1970s. Unfortunately, there are no pictures of Andrew available for this interview -- such is the life of a man who deals with dangerous criminals regularly.

You have a long history of living and working in Africa. Tell us about Africa.

I have lived in East Africa longer than anywhere else. Africa, so heartrendingly beautiful, is just too large, too diverse, too complicated, too bizarre, too cruel, too unforgiving, too overflowing of everything good and bad, to explain quickly.

Did you know from an early age that you would seek a life full of action and danger?

I don’t know where you get this stuff! I’m a glorified policeman. My occupation as a game ranger in an ideal world would be no more exciting than that of a shepherd tending his flock. I just happen to deal with especially ruthless, violent and heavily armed criminals on the savannah rather than in the city.

How did you discover that you were suited to such a life?

I was a city boy, but I discovered as a conscript during my military service, when I worked in Intelligence, parachuting in on revolutionary groups beyond the country’s borders, that I have a gift for bushcraft. Love of animals followed. If you keep large wild animals, resisting poachers is a survival skill, for the animals and for you.

When in life did you begin to write? What triggered you to work on your earlier books?

While I was, briefly, a journalist, I discovered that safaris to hunt black men were being organized in the Caprivi Strip with the collusion of a police general. None of the newspapers in South Africa would touch the story, regardless of proof, and I was fired from my paper for the bad judgement of even mentioning something so dangerous to know. In London the editors were keen but the lawyers killed the story for fear of libel, and without the names it was no longer news. Since I was too outraged to give up, Sir Laurens van der Post suggested I write the story as a novel. This was ATROCITY WEEK.

It was published by Warner Books in New York and Sphere Books in London, and translated into many languages. The Apartheid era South African government sent assassins after me for ATROCITY WEEK, and again when in retaliation I published THE INSURRECTIONIST, a novel they condemned in the government paper, The Citizen, as “a blueprint for black revolution”. It was a crazy time.

In this post I am reviewing AFRICAN REVENGE, the first book in your Lance Weber Series about the hard man of Africa. CoolMain Press has announced that you are contracted to expand the series to five.
I’ve finished the two novels that will be added to the tale of Lance Weber. There are five long novels altogether in the series, or six, depending on what you count as belonging. In chronological order of events, not of writing, they are:

The two starred volumes are new. CAIN’S COURAGE isn’t about Lance Weber, but it explains how  his friend and partner Tanner Chapman arrives at the start of SMALL WAR, FAR AWAY, so my publishers decided to put it in the series.

Lance Weber’s experience in AFRICAN REVENGE is that of a rookie with good instincts learning quickly how to survive in the bush. Is this based more your own experience, or something you heard about?

The genesis of the Lance Weber novels was a crocodile hunt I went on with some soldiers of fortune my present editor, Andre Jute, a college friend, knew from his connection with the Belgian mining company that used to own most of the Congo. Some of those events made AFRICAN REVENGE. One shouldn’t have to come that close to death to get the plot for a novel!

Did you plan the Lance Weber Series as a set from the beginning?

Not at all. It grew organically. AFRICAN REVENGE was only one volume. But one night I was in a pub in London with John Blackwell, my editor at Secker & Warburg, drowning an over-hot curry with beer, and he heard from someone else at the pissoir that the BBC ran a programme about elephants becoming extinct. I knew about the elephants already, and John said he would commission a novel on the subject, and that was BLOOD IVORY. The other novels in the series followed when I had something to say, generally about something I observed in Africa.

Race is a factor in AFRICAN REVENGE, as in several of your novels. Were you tempted to update the novel to spare modern sensitivities?

No. The Lance Weber set covers a period of a dozen years from the later-1960’s forward and the depiction of race is accurate for each book in its period. I was there, I witnessed the developments: that’s how people spoke and behaved then. I’m not in the least interested in retrospective politically correct bowdlerization. It just wouldn’t be true to the stories. In fact, part of the literary and social interest in these stories is the changing relationships between the white and black characters over a crucial period for Africa.

How do you think of your novels?

Classic adventure stories with modern violence: I flatter myself that H. Rider Haggard and Arthur Conan Doyle and John Buchan would recognize my novels as realistic successors.

Thank you, Matt, for inviting me to talk about my books.

My review follows:

African Revenge by Andrew McCoy was recently re-issued by CoolMain Press, a small privately-owned publisher in Ireland. The quality of CoolMain’s three lead authors --  McCoy himself, Andre Jute, the prolific polymath, and racing novelist Dakota Franklin -- makes this publisher's website an obvious destination for anyone looking for an exciting thriller to read.
While I have read Andrew McCoy's co-authored books before, African Revenge was my first by him alone, and I admit to salivating over the prospect when its republication was announced. (The book was originally published in 1980 by London imprint Secker and Warburg, whose principals receive the dedication of this book because of their courage in printing his previous two politically explosive volumes.) As an American writer with a multicultural inclination, I find Africa particularly interesting. Its history before the fifteenth century is patchy (beyond Egypt);  considering the continent’s size it has few archaeological sites; and the American media present only a tepid mix of stereotypes and silence to cover a continent of many millions of people from tens of thousands of cultures. Also, I have recently begun to meet more and more people from Nigeria, Egypt, and in the case of Andre and Andrew specifically, even South Africa, but my prospects for visiting the place are very limited, and thus for me, Africa represents a very dangerous sort of exotic promised land, offering little security and much threat, but significant diversity and promise.

Andrew McCoy is a man who has lived through the full dangers of African life and emerged to tell stories about them before plunging back in. I'm frankly amazed that he gave me an interview, written, as he told me, while hiding in the bush waiting for a young leopard -- but the far-flung parts of the world are far closer to each other now than they used to be, and that is quite cool. New York and the African bush are talking to each other, and perhaps my daily world of filthy snow and towering highways and traffic and takeout food would be nearly as disorienting for Andrew.

African Revenge begins with Lance Weber, a young South African rugby player getting into a pickle over gambling debt to a gangster. Just short of losing his testicles between a pair of bricks, he seeks out his tough mercenary brother, Ewart, for protection. Ewart offers him a proposition in reply:  he can go along, for a share, on a perilous mission to kill thousands of Congolese crocodiles and sell their skins to the makers of luxury luggage. Ewart is partnered with Jacques Roux, an older, dignified soldier whose young wife Briony combines nasty racial prejudice with aggressive libido. The dangers built into the mission are many -- the crocodiles, the snakes, the explosives, the feuding jungle tribes -- but these pale before the real threat of local government paramilitary militias, mercenaries, and bandits. Lance soon proves talented at the work. He's a crack shot with a rifle, for one thing, and while he makes both strategic and cultural mistakes, he makes a lot of good decisions too.

It's not, good, however, when Lance gets into a tussle with Theodore Bruun, a despicable local military leader who already has bad blood with Ewart. After the fight, Bruun becomes a vicious, sadistic enemy for the duration of the book. Bruun is a shrewd adversary, but also a savage racist, a man with no redeeming characteristics whatsoever. He makes a good enemy. I longed for him to be dispatched during his every appearance.

African Revenge is an intense page-turner of an adventure story set mostly in the bush regions of the Congo, where danger is constant and only a supremely knowledgeable person with good allies can survive. It is full of tidbits about survival, ranging from how to keep your Landrover steady at high speeds on dirt roads, to how to separate the locked bumpers of crashed trucks, to how to cook nitro-glycerin from dynamite. It's loaded with lessons on the relations of some of the Congolese people and their specialized beliefs, and offers a clinic on small-unit tactics in the jungle. These lessons fascinate me, as a lover of culture and as an armchair student of military actions. I don't think there are too many novels in which to learn lessons like these, especially as part of a fast-paced adventure story.

Lance has no taste for killing, but he adjusts to doing it, because his survival requires it. The fact that this is the first book in a series called Hard Man of Africa tells you his destiny. How does a man become hard? Seeing death, dealing death, and facing the death of those you care about are three prominent ways, and he must confront all three. There are many possible definitions of manhood, and African Revenge adheres to one of the more old-fashioned ones:  manhood means being durable, self-reliant, resolute, and adaptable; also, it means being able to kill those who would destroy you. Compassion and mercy are dangerous. Frankly, your typical CEO, or a great lover of peace such as the Dalai Lama, wouldn't last a day in this environment, and neither would I.

Race is a daily issue for every character in this book. It's impossible to live in Lance's world without understanding the complex interactions between whites and blacks, and between different groups of blacks. These are presented in uncompromising detail. As a reader myself, I am able to contextualize it, and see the racists as villains while appreciating the easy camaraderie between the white men -- Lance, Ewart, and Jacques -- and their black mercenary team, led by Sergeant Simba, prince of a devastated tribe, and Jimmy, who becomes Lance's protector and right hand. However, it has to be acknowledged that the racial difference is never unnoticed, and that any blacks other than Simba, Jimmy, and their brothers remain frighteningly alien. Bruun's small army are little different than animals, both in his estimation (he disciplines them by smacking them around and kicking their shins) and in the estimation of our heroes, who slaughter them mercilessly at every turn. The narrative doesn't spare these men either, making it clear in a certain sequence that, horrifyingly, they are clamoring to gang-rape Briony because she is a white woman. (She has a pretty rotten personality, but no one deserves to be raped.) A mixed-race servant named Pietie doesn't fare well at any stage of the expedition -- he receives abuse from both whites and blacks. I felt truly sorry for him, especially at one point late in the book.

This is such a distinctive novel that for a comparison one has to reach back to a 19th-century equivalent, the Allan Quatermain novels of adventure written by H. Rider Haggard. Quatermain, an Englishman in Africa, was a master hunter and marksman who mingled freely with black tribesman who were both friends and adversaries, whom he both admired and slew as the circumstances required. While this book is set about eighty years after Quatermain's adventures as a young man, and while it is gritty where Haggard was more fantastical, it breathes the same spirit.

I recommend African Revenge unreservedly for its pacing, writing style, mastery of authentic detail, and powerful characterization. It is thrilling, shocking, upsetting, and difficult to put down till the end.

Sales information and more about Andrew McCoy

Andrew McCoy at iTunes

Categories: None