Publisher: Macmillan Australia (Trade Paperback – 30 June 2020)
Series: Sonja Kurtz – Book Four
Length: 401 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
The master of the Australian thriller, Tony Park, is back with Last Survivor, another intense and action-packed novel that explores the turbulent and beautiful continent of Africa.
Tony Park is an awesome Australian author who has been writing some great thriller novels since his 2003 debut, Far Horizon. I have been really getting into Park’s fantastic books over the last couple of years and I really appreciate their excellent adventure storylines, as well as the author’s outstanding use of Africa as a background setting for all his books. I rather enjoyed his 2018 release, Scent of Fear, and I had an amazing time reading last year’s Ghosts of the Past which had some impressive historical fiction elements to it. As a result, I was very excited when I received my copy of Last Survivor and not just because it quoted my Canberra Weekly review for Ghosts of the Past on the back (see below). Last Survivor is the 18th novel written by Park and it also serves as the fourth book to feature his recurring protagonist, Sonja Kurtz.
In Last Survivor, freelance intelligence agent Sonja Kurtz is back and on the trail of a terrorist organisation who are financing themselves through the smuggling of rare cycads. This story starts with Joanne Flack, treasurer of the Pretoria Cycad and Firearms Appreciation Society, on the run from her home in South Africa, accused of stealing an extremely valuable cycad worth millions of dollars. However, when Joanne is attacked by a terrorist operative in the heart of London, she flees back to Africa, where she knows how to hide.
Following a dangerous operation in Mali, Sonja Kurtz is given a new mission by her contact in the CIA, who wants her help tracking down Joanne and finding out what she knows about the terrorists who attacked her. Teaming up with former Fish and Wildlife Services investigator Rod Cavanagh, who has significant history with Joanne Flack, Sonja travels Africa to initiate contact. However, the moment that Sonja finds her Joanne they are attacked by a team of heavily armed killers, determined to take her out.
With their CIA contact down and everyone now trying to kill them, Sonja, Joanne and Rod flee deeper into Africa seeking refuge where they can. In order to protect Joanne, they need to work out who is funding their attackers and what their interest in the cycad is. To that end, Sonja infiltrates the Pretoria Cycad and Firearms Appreciation Society in order to use them as a cover for her investigation. However, it soon becomes clear that someone in the Society is working for the terrorists, and Sonja and her friends will have to tread carefully if they are to survive the forces coming for them.
Now, that was a fun read. Park has once again produced another deeply exciting, high-octane thriller that drags the reader in and keeps them engaged until the bitter end. I really loved this amazing read which combines a fantastic story with a captivating modern-day setting and a focus on a new and unique real-world issue. Last Survivor is a very easy book to get into and it mostly serves as a great standalone novel. Readers unfamiliar with Park’s work do not need to check out any of the author’s prior novels first, not even the previous books that featured Sonja Kurtz as a protagonist. However, those long-term fans of Park will love seeing more of his unique style, as well as the return of one of his few reoccurring characters.
Park has come up with an outstanding and enjoyable thriller storyline for Last Survivor which was addictive, clever and very exciting. The story revolves around the hunt for a rare cycad, and the protagonists’ attempts to stop the terrorist organisation attempting to obtain it to finance their operation. This proves to be a fantastic narrative that combines a clever spy thriller story with great character development and impressive action sequences. The author utilises a number of separate character perspectives to tell the story, allowing for an expansive and enjoyable narrative that splits into several separate plot lines. I also liked all the fun characters that Park introduced throughout this book, from the troubled Joanne Fleck, whose significant past with Rod Cavanagh adds a lot of drama to the story, to the members of the Pretoria Cycad and Firearms Appreciation Society, heavily armed plant enthusiasts who have a traitor amongst their ranks. It was also great seeing more of his recurring character, Sonja Kurtz, an aging spy with commitment and trust issues, whose burning love for Africa matches the author’s. This story goes into some enjoyable directions, and there are several great twists and turns throughout it punctuated by a number of amazing action sequences to really drag in the reader’s attention. I particularly liked the unique and extended battle sequence that served as the book’s conclusion and it was both intense and entertaining to watch Kurtz and her rag-tag team of elderly African gun-nuts go up against a group of terrorists and criminals. All of this makes for a fantastic read and I found myself swiftly getting through the entire book in very quick fashion.
Another awesome element of this book is the way that Park once again sets the story throughout various parts of Africa. Park has a clear and sustained love for Africa, as all his novels are based in or around the continent, which always proves to be an excellent literary setting. This is once again true for Last Survivor, as the story jumps around various parts of multiple countries such as South Africa, Mali and Zimbabwe. Each of these different countries prove to be great locations for this book and Park expertly examines several social and political realities of living in these countries, working them into the plot of the story in a compelling and enjoyable manner. While it is great learning more about these African countries, the real magic occurs when Park takes the story out into the African wilds. Not only does this prove to be an awesome location for the book’s intense action sequences but the author always provides such powerful and endearing descriptions of the wilderness and its animal inhabitants. Park’s sheer love of the African countryside really shines through every time that a character considers their surroundings and he always manages to bring these locations to life. I also like the way that Park uses his stories to examine parts of Africa that he is really passionate about, such as highlighting the damage and evils of illegal poaching, lauding various anti-poaching groups and patrols that are trying to oppose them, and also looking at the various national parks and nature preserves that exist across the various countries. All of this really makes for a fantastic setting, and I cannot wait to see what new aspects of Africa that Park reveals in his next book.
As I mentioned above, Park routinely uses his thriller novels to throw a spotlight on the evils of poaching in Africa and the organisations and community groups who attempt to combat it. While there is still a lot of that within this novel, the story mainly focuses on a fascinating new illegal operation that has taken root in Africa, the smuggling of rare cycads. Cycads are ancient seed plants that have existed since the Jurassic, and while many species can be found around the world, several species are currently on the brink of extinction. This apparently has led to a thriving smuggling market in Africa with many rare specimens illegally taken out of the country and sold off to rich collectors around the world. Park really dives into this new illegal trade throughout the book with the story filled with a number of intense discussions about what cycads are, their various biological properties, why some of them are so rare and valuable, and how they are currently becoming a major source of financing for smugglers and terrorists. This proves to be extremely fascinating, and I really appreciated the information I received learning more about cycads, a subject that I really did not too much about prior to this book. The illegal cycad smuggling also plays really well into the book’s amazing thriller story, and I really enjoyed how an intense action story revolved around people smuggling plants and the lengths people will go to obtain them.
Last Survivor is another deeply impressive thriller novel from Tony Park, who has once again produced a clever, relevant, and intensely action packed read which you find extremely hard to put down. I had an incredible time seeing another one of Park’s amazing adventures take place amongst the African wilds and I really love the unique elements he adds to the story. This is a fantastic and compelling book and it comes highly recommended.