Bioengineer Allan Sinclair is excited to tell his girlfriend, Lisa Sharpe, about a West African nutmeg plant, Kombo, that may offer a breakthrough for treating Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Lisa relays this information to her venture-capital firm's boss, Scott Sherman, whose mother has Alzheimer's. He finds out that his former Cornell University colleague, professor John Stamen, has the patent on Kombo, so Scott gets funding from pharmaceutical company Wyzer and travels to Ghana with John. They're promptly kidnapped by Richard Akromah, a rebel whose armed men are running protection rackets on illegal mining operations. Lisa and Scott's best friend, journalist Mark Halper, helps with the ransom payment, but Richard, seeking amnesty from a 50-year-old murder, ultimately becomes their partner, helping to collect Kombo for a profit. Unfortunately, Richard has shady associates in his past. One is gun smuggler Sergei Andreyavich, who set up Richard's bank account 15 years before and isn't happy about recent transactions; he assumes correctly that Richard's now in business with someone in the United States. He and his Russian pals are willing to align themselves with terrorists in order to get the money they feel Richard owes them. Although this book contains thriller components, such as the ever present Russian threat, its high-speed resolutions curtail the suspense; a hostage situation, for example, is resolved in the course of a relatively short scene. Nevertheless, Shields excels at the surprisingly riveting financial aspects; Richard may be a criminal, but Scott is equally ruthless in setting up shop with John, despite what it does to Lisa's relationship with Allan. Politically, the story stays middle-of-the-road. It's indisputable that Ghana has been victimized (or "raped," as a local doctor puts it) by foreign companies for its natural resources, but big money is also shown to be a necessity to get projects off the ground; for example, Allan, on his own and without steady revenue, makes no headway. Shields rounds out his story with melodrama, such as when a distraught Lisa continually checks to see if Allan has left her a message.
The villains have little impact in this tale, but its white-collar plot is continually fascinating
Review of Five Lions of the Volta
Lisa,employed by a venture capital firm, is romantically linked to Allan, owner of a biotech firm. When Allan tells her he is working on a way to augment the medicinal properties of nutmeg which could be a potential cure for Alzheimer's disease, she shares the information with her business partner, Scott, whose mother suffers from the disease.
This simple act of kindness on Lisa's part sets in motion a chain of events that will change all their lives forever. Once he learns of the potential of nutmeg,Scott goes to his old college friend, John, who has been working on a similar project, and makes him a business offer he can't refuse.This takes them to Ghana, where they encounter Richard Akroma, an anti-government rebel who is seeking an amnesty and a chance to return to the life of an ordinary Ghanaian citizen.
A fascinating story of what happens when Western business meets the reality of African society and politics--with a taste of Cold War machinations thrown in for good measure, as Akroma's Cold War association with the KGB come back to haunt him. While there is a bit more telling than absolutely necessary to move the plot along, much of it does at least help the reader understand the back ground and motivation of the characters. Some, however, is merely interesting historical or technical information that does not move the story forward. The author tells the story from several points of view,but thankfully, the transitions from one character to another are done smoothly, so it is not confusing.
The Five Lions of the Volta by Larry Shields is a story of a culture little understood by most Westerners, told in a way that does not transform the African characters into caricatures, and which portrays the landscape and society in a credible way. Like Blood Diamonds, this would make a good movie,and with a little more showing rather than telling would be a five-star book. I give it four-stars.