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The Lioness


The Lioness

Chris Bohjalian is an award-winning author who has decades of wonderful novels to his credit. However, you could argue that he is now a household name thanks to the HBO Max series adaptation of his 2018 thriller, THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT, which is just about to wrap up its second season.

I am happy to report that his latest novel, THE LIONESS, is already in development for a television series. It’s a terrific look at the Hollywood stars of the mid-1960s set against the backdrop of an African safari gone terribly wrong. The “lioness” of the title refers to A-list actress Katie Barstow. She and her new husband, David Hill, have brought their Hollywood friends to the Serengeti, the most exotic locale they can think of, for their honeymoon.

"THE LIONESS is not for the faint of heart and is one of the most brutal novels Bohjalian has ever penned."

Unfortunately, Katie did not plan for the outcome that is about to befall them. Her small group --- which includes her brother, Billy Stepanov, and his pregnant wife, Margie; her agent, Peter Merrick; her publicist, Reggie Stout; actress Carmen Tedesco and her husband, screenwriter Felix Demeter; and Black actor Terrance Dutton --- piles into Land Rovers and follows their guides into the jungle. Not all of them will make it out alive.

Ironically, the threat comes not from any of the dangerous creatures on the safari but from human beings. A band of seriously armed Russians ambush Katie and her entourage, sending an immediate message by blowing the head off of their lead guide, Emmanuel, with an elephant gun. They will not have much time to ponder why they are being targeted, as Felix is finding his spine pressed down into the earth by a boot just prior to his own body being riddled with bullets.

THE LIONESS is not for the faint of heart and is one of the most brutal novels Bohjalian has ever penned. Readers barely have time to catch their breath before the next person is murdered in gruesome fashion. Is this a hostage situation? A political statement utilizing high-profile Hollywood figures to send a message? Or just a random bunch of psychopaths who are killing for the sake of killing? We will get an answer, and it will satisfy, but the book works so well because of the tension and claustrophobic background.

I found it interesting when the narrative stepped away from the primary characters and was told through the point of view of the backup safari guides and natives of Africa who are living through their own uprising, which puts the Russian-American Cold War posturing to shame. If you would like a taste of that, I recommend you watch the classic film Hotel Rwanda.

THE LIONESS provides much to thrill over and a lot to unpack from a political and social perspective, which makes it yet another triumph for one of my favorite authors.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on May 13, 2022

The Lioness
by Chris Bohjalian