Equal parts Isak Dinesen's classic memoir Out of Africa and Alexander McCall Smith's Precious Ramotswe saga (The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Tears of the Giraffe, et al.), Suzanne Arruda's debut novel is a historical whodunit set predominantly in post-WWI British East Africa that features Jade del Cameron, a tough and adventurous young woman on a dangerous quest to fulfill a dead man's last wish.
As an American student in England who drove an ambulance for the French Army during WWI, del Cameron witnessed innumerable horrors during the conflict -- none more gruesome than watching her lover (an English fighter pilot named David Worthy) get shot out of the skies and then holding him in her arms as he died. Jade vows to accomplish David's last request -- to somehow find his unknown brother -- but she soon realizes that the task won't be as easy as it initially seemed. Her search leads her to Nairobi, where David's father died years earlier in a bizarre animal attack. But as Jade slowly closes in on David's mysterious brother -- and his father's killer -- she also puts herself in harm's way by becoming embroiled in a treacherous plot that includes a malevolent witch, a heroin-smuggling operation, hidden treasure, and cold-blooded murder.
Mark of the Lion is noteworthy in large part because of its cross-genre appeal. The blend of mystery, historical fiction, African travelogue, and unlikely romance make Arruda's debut offering a compelling and striking read. (Safari hat and elephant gun not included!) Paul Goat Allen