The Secret Chamber
Patrick Woodhead has, apparently, been a professional explorer for the last eight years, so one imagines his exotic locations are excellently researched.
Not quite. `The Secret Chamber' opens with a man running, arms outstretched, through the Zairean jungle. Well, good luck with that in real life. Maybe he has machetes for arms. He then stops to rest at an acacia tree. Another superhuman feat, he must have covered a lot of ground to get all the way from the jungle to the savanna so quickly.
I could have stopped reading there but I decided to give it a few more pages at least... a sad disappointment. After introducing us to `Bear', the female lead, who Woodhead can't help describing in lascivious, pawing detail, the next scene takes us to the `mining outpost' of Bloemfontein, supposedly in the remote Kalahari Desert. Which is odd, because in reality, Bloemfontein, a fairly well-watered city of nearly 400,000, is actually the judicial capital of South Africa.
One can't help wondering if the `unclimbed mountains' and `unchartered tributaries' [sic] that Woodhead's frontispiece claims he has conquered were not just the result of some mediocre map reading.
Nevertheless, a complete ignorance of geography is not necessarily a bad thing in an author, in fact, many authors have toyed with alternate realities with great dramatic effect. So on I ploughed.
But then, what do we find here?
After a blanket disparagement of the looks of Bloemfontein's womenfolk, Patrick Woodhead introduces another character as a `fat Boer bastard'. Yes, that's what you read: `fat Boer bastard'. Perhaps, in his mind, he believed he had some dramatic justification for this (no, it wasn't in quote marks in the book), but, er, I was actually under the impression that there were laws against this kind of bigotry.
And there's more to come... when we meet the aforementioned gentleman, an utter caricature, his voice is thick with an `Afrikaner' accent. An Afrikaans accent perhaps?
And a moment later, my final point of contact with this appalling novel: `Her job was to contain the site, not win a petty argument with a halfwit Boer.' Extraordinary. Utterly extraordinary.
Particularly as the `Boer's' main character flaw seemed to be the way he treats the lead woman merely as a sex object... yet after all, Woodhead's own treatment of her is equally grubby, whether he's writing inside or outside of quote marks.
Apparently Mr Woodhead now runs a safari company called White Desert, showing people around Antarctica. One can only hope he's not piloting the plane - and that he treats his guests better than his characters.