A number of Christian fiction authors have developed a broad worldview as children of missionaries living abroad. Raised by missionary parents in Colombia, Windle comes off a highly acclaimed pair of books on Afghanistan (Veiled Freedom, Freedom’s Stand) and moves into the jungles of the Congo. Robin Duncan, member of a global security force for a precious metals mine, learns she is meant for more than providing security for a multinational corporation. She must also overcome her personal grief and betrayal by Michael Stewart if, together, the two are to help liberate people oppressed in once-beautiful, smoldering rain forests that the government and corporate greed have laid to waste. The author doesn’t limit character development to Robin, but also deeply develops accessible and multidimensional African characters. Inverting the Heart of Darkness trope of self-discovery in the jungle, this story sheds light through a great faith struggle in Robin: “Am I so different from those rebels, from Governor Wamba or Jini, using the darkness as an excuse to turn from the light, wallowing in my own self-pity and self-absorption?” (Feb.)
While former Marine lieutenant Robin Duncan is no stranger to corruption or conspiracy, she has always been able to tell the good guys from the bad, and the Congo jungle at first seems no different. But as her security team tries to track down an insurgent killer, Robin has to face a man who broke her trust years ago, and she discovers the gray areas extend farther in this jungle wilderness than she anticipated.
A ruthless global conspiracy begins to surface, run by powerful men who can’t afford to leave any witnesses. Her life at stake, Robin doesn’t know who to trust and wonders how she can help protect innocent people. Why is God silent amid all the pain and injustice? And how do these people of faith continue to rejoice in their suffering?
"Robin Duncan, former Marine lieutenant, now hired interpreter for an international mining consortium's security team, travels to the mineral-rich and war-torn Congolese rainforest in this faith-based suspense. There she meets the doctor who broke her heart five years earlier, along with cold-blooded killers. Set in the Ituri villages of the Congo, the story brings international characters and cultures to life with evocative African accents. Brooke Heldman places listeners in the midst of the action with a polished performance of the security team's pursuit of the brutal killers. Her portrayal of Duncan's growing distrust and genuine fear when she learns of the consortium's ruthless global conspiracy is especially believable. Authentic sound effects add to a mystery that reveals how absolute power corrupts absolutely."
G.D.W. © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine
Robin Duncan and her private security team have been hired to track down a killer in the jungles of the Congo. Deep within the rainforest, she also must face Michael Stewart, the man who broke her heart years ago. As they work together to help liberate indigenous people, they learn of a global conspiracy and don't know whom they can trust. VERDICT Windle's (Veiled Freedom) latest features a suspenseful plot, complex moral issues, and well-drawn characters. Readers who enjoy their CF set in exotic locations will make this a sure bet. It should also be enjoyed by fans of Ace Collins or William Carmichael.
|Publisher:||Tyndale House Publishers|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)|
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By JEANETTE WINDLE
TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC.Copyright © 2013 Jeanette Windle
All right reserved.
Chapter OneITURI RAINFOREST
He could stop this with a word. A raised hand.
Instead he began the task for which he'd come as a band of armed men fanned out, kicking in bamboo doors, tossing torches onto thatched roofs, dragging residents still groggy with sleep into the open. A spattering of gunfire on the far side of the village signaled the first resistance.
He made no effort to interfere when the first woman was tossed down onto the red dirt of the clearing. Flames leaping high from burning huts now matched the red and orange streaks lightening a dawn sky above the jungle canopy. The gunfire had become a steady staccato. He closed his ears to its clatter. To the shouts, screams, moans. The terrified sobbing of a child.
But he could not so close his eyes. These images would never leave his mind.
By the time all fell silent, the rising sun had cleared the treetops. But its cheerful rays could not penetrate a black pall of smoke that drifted upward to cast its spreading shadow across the sky.
He turned his head as a hand touched his shoulder. His second-in-command stepped close to murmur urgently, "The searchers found nothing. Learned nothing. We must go before the smoke is spotted and others come."
But he shook off his subordinate's warning hand to stride out across the clearing. Stepping around prone shapes and viscous scarlet puddles, he peered through smoldering doorframes until the thunderous crash of a collapsing roof startled him into prudence. Only when he was satisfied nothing remained to be done did he lift a hand in signal. As he slipped noiselessly into the rainforest's camouflage of leaf and vine and root, a phalanx of phantoms melted into invisibility with him.
Behind them, all that remained of what had been a tranquil rainforest community were embers and dead bodies.
He did not permit himself to waste a heartbeat on pity.
After all, none had been granted him or his!
* * *
"The problem with these people, bokkie, isn't that they can't be bought. It's that they just won't stay bought!"
Robin Duncan had no illusion that the brawny, flaxen-blond South African mercenary was referencing their Congolese driver, who still sat unmoving behind the steering wheel of the ancient two-anda-half-ton market truck, staring out a cracked windshield.
Nor a dozen equally brawny Caucasian males hunkered down on a pile of luggage in the truck bed.
Nor even the two border guards who'd waggled their heads and AK-47 assault rifles at the passports and stamped visa forms Robin offered through a rolled-down window.
No, Pieter Krueger's latest disgusted pronouncement was directed at the same person or persons responsible for Robin's own sour attitude and sore posterior. Cracked vinyl upholstery over broken wire springs was hardly adequate protection against twenty kilometers of jolting through deep ruts, untrimmed brush, and dry streambeds. Especially when she'd been awake and on the move for over twenty-four hours.
Robin straightened her spine to ease stiffened back muscles as she stepped away from the truck cab. Just beyond the truck's rusted hood, a metal pole extended across the dirt track. A round hut squatted in the shade of several large mango trees, its conical thatched roof giving the appearance of a witch's hat.
Black letters staggered drunkenly across the whitewash of the hut. Services de l'immigration République démocratique du Congo.
A touch of officialdom drooped from a second metal pole, this one vertical. The sky-blue banner with a diagonal red stripe banded in yellow and a yellow star in the upper-left corner—the DRC's most recent version of a country flag. A scattering of cinder-block shacks completed the hamlet. Shops, apparently, from the boxes of cigarettes, aluminum cookware, grain sacks, and mounds of fruit and vegetables that were identifiable even under a coating of red dust.
But if this Congolese strip mall existed to capitalize on transnational traffic, business was poor. The market truck was the only vehicle pulled up to the roadblock. Behind it, the dirt track snaking back through the no-man's-land held only a few trudging pedestrians balancing loads on their heads along with a rapidly approaching dust cloud. A motorcycle, judging by the size of the cloud and the distinct rumble. Beyond the roadblock where the road disappeared again into a dense tangle of green, not a motorized vehicle nor even a bicycle was in sight.
Which might account for the swarm of vendors already mobbing the truck with dusty glass bottles of Coca-Cola and Primus, the region's ubiquitous local beer, as well as plastic baggies filled with a cloudy liquid that could be palm wine or coconut water. And the bored indolence with which the two guards ambled around the truck to peer through the wooden slats at its cargo of passengers and luggage.
"So just what's the holdup?" A hand dropped onto Robin's shoulder. "Why are they not letting us through?"
"They say there's a problem with our papers. You'll have to go inside and speak to the com-mander." Robin inched away as Pieter Krueger's large frame loomed uncomfortably close. She'd been working a UN fact-finding mission as team linguist in Haiti when the private security company that held her contract, Ares Solutions, had contacted her. Two of the language skills listed on her résumé—French (excellent) and Swahili (passable)—were urgently needed for a brand-new security contract in eastern DRC. The hazard pay bonus offered was generous enough to suggest caution if Robin didn't need the money so badly. She'd been issued a replacement for Haiti and an e-ticket to Kenya by the time her duffel bag was packed.
In the Nairobi airport, Robin had joined up with some two dozen other Ares Solutions operatives. From their introductions, the group constituted a fairly stereotypical representation of their chosen career in more ways than just the inevitable safari-style clothing, Kevlar vests, wraparound sunglasses, and muscled builds. Two German commandos. Several Australian and New Zealander former paratroopers. A scattering of East European elite troopers whose Cold War training offered few employment opportunities at home these days but was a hot commodity in the private military market. Robin's only countrymen were a pair of Vietnam-era Green Berets, gray-haired and weather-beaten.
But by far the largest contingent were white Africans. South African commandos who'd gone freelance once their country fell under black rule. Rhodesians who'd fought as teenagers in Ian Smith's Bush War before that country became Zimbabwe. Angolan Portuguese. Three white Kenyans who'd served in the British Special Air Service. A pair of apartheid-era Afrikaner combat helicopter pilots.
All had that ineffable air—less arrogance than supreme self-confidence combined with somewhat-unkempt personal grooming—that suggested they'd knocked around the planet's sleazier underbelly long and successfully enough that they simply didn't care what any other human being might think of them. Dangerous men, definitely. For hire, perhaps. But still warriors and superlatively expert at their craft. English was the one language they'd all demonstrated in common. None spoke more than a few words of French or Swahili, not even the Kenyans, in whose country the latter was a primary language among its black majority population.
Well, that was why Robin was here.
The single other outlier on this mission was a third passenger now clambering down from the truck cab, pale-blue eyes blinking behind metal-rimmed glasses. His gaze shifted only fractionally from the reinforced screen of a tough-travel notebook computer to find his footing. Round-shouldered, brown hair untrimmed, Carl Jensen looked so much the image of Shaggy on Scooby-Doo that Robin had found herself instinctively glancing around for his canine companion.
"You mean you'll have to speak to this commander." White teeth flashed in chiseled, handsome features as Krueger stepped forward to reclaim the space Robin had inserted between them. "You did well enough in Arua. But border authorities in these parts are not so predictable, especially for a woman. Just stay close to me, speak only the words I give you, and you'll be safe enough."
An Afrikaner in his late thirties, Pieter Krueger had introduced himself in Nairobi as manager for Ares Solutions' African operations. He'd herded the group onto a C-130 four-engine military cargo plane chartered to ferry their team along with a full load of mission supplies from Nairobi to Bunia, in the DRC. But the pilot had announced midflight that their clearance into the Democratic Republic of the Congo had been inexplicably revoked.
They'd diverted instead to land in Arua, a Ugandan border town. While a handful of Ares Solutions operatives remained behind to mount guard over the plane's contents, Robin had used her halting Swahili to help Krueger negotiate ground transport just over the Congolese border, where arrangements had been made for an air pickup from Bunia.
"But we do not have much time. We still have a drive ahead to the airstrip, and our flight could be landing anytime now. You might as well learn now our new mutual employer has no patience for unpunctuality." Krueger's hand on Robin's shoulder slid down to the small of her back as though to steer her toward the border outpost. "I must say a female translator is still a surprise. I have served in the past with Trevor Mulroney, and he is not the sort to hire a woman for such a mission as this. Or at all. Not that I am complaining to have such a pretty young bokkie on the team."
Robin gritted her teeth at his appreciative leer and the warm pressure of his hand. Pieter Krueger had insisted Robin join him and Carl in the truck cab instead of crouching down against a whirlwind of red dust in the open truck bed. To facilitate communication with the driver had been his stated rationale. The South African mercenary was admittedly a striking male specimen whose rugged, blond good looks could have graced a Nazi-era poster for Aryan perfection. And single, he'd been quick to let Robin know.
But after the past hour of running commentary on corrupt African governance, unruly native populations, Krueger's exploits fighting in Africa's many wars, and the general worthlessness of the entire continent north of Johannesburg, Robin wasn't so sure she'd brokered the better deal. And if his Afrikaner slang was the endearment she guessed, Robin was going to have to set some hard boundaries before this contract progressed much further.
Not for the first time in the testosterone-dominated profession she'd chosen.
"So, anything cold to drink around this place?" Carl Jensen slammed shut his laptop to glance around.
"Cold, no. Wet, yes. Just don't buy anything that isn't factory bottled if you don't want to pay for it later." Gesturing to where her teammates were already trading coins for drinks, Robin used the interruption to step discreetly away so Pieter Krueger had to drop his hand. The South African threw her a sharp glance, white teeth disappearing into a frown. But without further comment, he strode toward the whitewashed hut. Robin followed, deliberately lagging two paces behind.
Overhead, a fierce sun marked the hour as close to noon. Breaking out a hand wipe from the knapsack she carried over one shoulder, Robin swabbed perspiring cheeks as she walked. It came away sodden with red mud. A breeze whistling through the mango trees brought with its cooling touch a scent of dust and green mangoes, manure, and fermenting palm sap, tapped all over Africa as an alcoholic beverage.
Drifting from inside one of the shops, the syncopated beat of a carved-wood drum accompanied a man's voice crooning a Swahili folk ballad. In a cultivated field beyond, a pair of zebras, mother and foal, munched contentedly on whatever crop was planted there.
Zebras! How long had it been since Robin had glimpsed a zebra outside a zoo?
There'd been a time in Robin's far-distant childhood when the sights, sounds, and smells of an African countryside roused only delight, a magical real-life version of Disney's The Lion King. The vast green horizons and bright-red earth like nothing else she'd seen on the planet. Those peculiar flat-topped trees for which she knew no name, dotting open pastures like inverted brooms. Clusters of thatched huts, round and square. The chaos and bright colors of an open-air market. Grinning dark faces and the staccato of bare feet pounding in dance for the latest community excuse of celebration.
But today Robin saw instead the rheumy, sunken eyes of several small children peering from an alley between shops, their naked bellies swollen from parasites and malnutrition. The angry desperation of vendors battling for a rare sale. Piles of rotting garbage that competed with the fragrance of fresh-picked fruit. The casual, even bored brutality with which the two guards were now using the butts of their weapons to beat back a few peddlers who persisted in hassling the new arrivals.
I am so tired of war and hunger and poverty. Of places and jobs like this. Of human misery and sheer human meanness that never seems to reach its limit! All the more reason to get through this checkpoint and this contract as quickly as possible.
Which did not prove so simple a matter as Robin had hoped.
The interior of the border outpost was a single large room open to the thatched roof. A metal filing cabinet, scattered plastic chairs, and the rickety wooden table that served as the immigration counter constituted its sole furnishings. Geckos scurried up walls where whitewashed plaster had crumbled to reveal mud brick beneath. Something unseen rustled in the dried palm fronds directly above Robin's head. The only lighting filtered through a pair of small windows.
"So you understand, your papers are no good here." A short but powerfully built man, the outpost commander had barely glanced at the stack of signed, stamped immigration forms before waving them away. On the table in front of him, empty Primus bottles crowded a manual typewriter. A sickly-sweet aroma of marijuana smoke suggested the lethargy and reddened, dilated glares of two more guards who'd jumped to their feet as the group entered were not after all due to boredom or interrupted slumber. "This means you cannot enter my country."
"I don't understand. How can these visas be no good?" Robin asked with a patience she did not feel. Even as she spoke, through the open door she took note of the motorcycle she'd heard earlier pulling up outside. Bundles lashed to its frame were piled so high she caught only a glimpse of blue jeans as a passenger dismounted. Robin pushed the stack of paperwork across the table. "These visas are issued by your own government. We received them just this morning in Nairobi."
"Then that is the problem. You have not crossed into the DRC from Kenya, but from Uganda. So that requires a separate visa. You cannot proceed without it."
But you rejected our visas before you even knew we'd originated in Kenya! Robin didn't dare introduce logic audibly into this proceeding. Recent years had taught her only too well the lessons of dealing with Third World bureaucracy. Never argue injustice. Never look a uniform in the eye. Grovel humbly and smilingly. Above all, let small-minded, petty officials, especially those carrying automatic weapons, feel as big and powerful and important as necessary to get the job done!
Behind Robin, Pieter Krueger's body language radiated impatience while others of the team were now jostling through the open door. Though Ugandan border control had required them to leave their weapons with the C-130, such a sizable group of large, muscled expatriates was attracting unfriendly glares from the commander's two bodyguards. Robin didn't care for the restless twitchiness with which they were fingering their AK-47s.
In her most conciliatory French, she pleaded, "But we have a plane waiting to pick us up. We won't have time to return to Uganda and come back. Surely there must be something we can do. Someone we can talk to. We have come to your country by direct invitation of the Ituri governor, Jean Pierre Wamba. See, here is his letter of authorization."
The commander's glance of incomprehension at the typed French and scrawled signature under an official letterhead confirmed Robin's suspicions of the man's illiteracy. "And what good is this? How am I to know it is not a forgery? No, you must return to Uganda and purchase new visas."
He wasn't going to budge. Her shoulders slumping in defeat, Robin murmured unhappily to Pieter Krueger, "I'm sorry, but I've tried everything I can, and I'm afraid we're just out of luck. He insists we have to go back to Arua and get new visas before we can cross. Can you radio our pickup and let them know we've got another delay on our hands?"
Excerpted from CONGO DAWN by JEANETTE WINDLE Copyright © 2013 by Jeanette Windle. Excerpted by permission of TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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