There was a brief period at the start when I thought that there was going to be rather too much engineering talk about helicopters, but this soon passed. Then very soon I was being drawn into the real story, the one about the characters that pilot those machines, and particularly the sub-culture of well-travelled pilots that ply their trade wherever it is called for. The story centres on a group of pilots working a fictitious site of oil drilling platforms of the coast of East Africa.
As the story begins to generate pace, we soon realise that its main theme is a clash between wealthy, privileged Western and a strong African culture that manage to sustain its people despite appalling relative poverty. The central figure, a form-filling, technically efficient if less than naturally talented, pilot is both naïve and prejudiced in his attitudes to foreigners in general, and especially those that live under African skies. He isn’t racist, that would be an unfair slur, but he certainly lives his bottled-up life under a thick blanket of cultural prejudices and unsound expectations. However, the mix of skin-hardened bush, ex-military and worldly-wise commercial pilots ensure that Edward sees his African contract through, if only just. We see Edward not so much change his spots, but to at least give them a depth of human understanding, that even in our widely wired, and increasingly educated population is far from always associated with first-world experience; even when burnished with occasional bursts of sunburn’t crimson in one protected tourist enclave or another.
This is a well written first book by a more than competent independent writer, who brings a good deal of personal experience to this entertaining story. However, a professional copy edit would certainly improve the read. It is, in the end, a book about the human condition, about the ability of people to make the best of what they have, wherever they happen to be, and about the prejudices in our variable characters that define us all, that make us the individuals we are. Edward would end up utterly the same man and yet profoundly changed by a few weeks in a much larger world; a place less tailored to his comfy, safe, preconceptions.