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‘I don’t like to write the same book again’

Wilbur smith talks about his latest, different thriller.

books Updated: Apr 29, 2011 21:09 IST
Rajiv Arora

Those In Peril
Wilbur Smith
Pan Macmillan
Rs 325
pp 386

I call up Wilbur Smith at his London residence expecting to hear a meek septuagenarian, who, like a regular 78-year-old, would talk languidly and laugh sparingly. But the buoyancy in his voice and the occasional guffaws take me by surprise, just like Smith’s latest — his 33rd — novel, Those In Peril. Unlike his earlier record-selling adventure ‘series’ titles — broadly divided into the Courtney, Ballantyne and the Egyptian series, set in or dealing with life in Africa from 17th to 20th century — Those... is a modern-day thriller.

“I don’t like to write the same book again and again,” says Smith, who considers writing about the present easier than the past, adding, “Story is what I love, creating it…being in it.” But to a thriller-junkie, more so to a Smith aficionado, the plot of Those...will appear simplistic — pirates have hijacked the yacht of a shrewd, smart and sharp oil tycoon, whose teenage daughter is aboard the vessel. Hector Cross, the security-head of the oil company, is our man Friday, who, a la James Bond and Superman, sets out to set things right.

Smith admits that the plot lacks twists’n’turns; that the storyline is unambiguous. But then that’s how “the story came” to him. “I have visited Somalia and [am] aware of the situation [of piracy]…the kidnapping [in the book] is logical,” he says about the topicality of the subject. But that’s not all that makes Those... different from his earlier works, including other stand-alone novels.

It is said that Smith’s characters don’t get just killed; they either get decomposed by Carro Velloce tanks, shot down by IOF .32 revolvers, etc. In other words, the violence in the books of this connoisseur of arms is high on detailing. Here, physical action is not limited between adversaries alone. Apart from a hearty serving of 21st century gadgets and maritime technology, Those... is high on sex, both intimate and brutal. Smith considers it as “a sign of the times”. “The youth of today enjoys more freedom than we did in our time. It’s a matter of fact.”

All this may let down his fans, who swear by his intricate narration and dense characterisation. But Smith isn’t bothered; not because he writes “only for himself, never for readers”, but because he feels that “We are not sheep, reading or enjoying the same books.” On its own, Those... is definitely a gripping read, has both the quintessential ‘Wilbur Smith touch’ in it and the potential to spark off a new series. But he thinks otherwise. “I never plan [series]. They happen if they happen,” says Smith with the same certainty with which he says he will never bring out the first novel he wrote but never published, simply because “it’s a bad book”. He breaks into another bout of laughter and I am surprised again, this time wondering if he could ever write one such!