Good Man Down

I see that novelist Wilbur Smith has died aged 88, and I have to mourn one of the world’s great storytellers.

Longtime Readers will recall that when anyone asks me to recommend books about South Africa, I recommend Wilbur Smith’s Courtney trilogy  (When The Lion Feeds, The Sound Of Thunder and A Sparrow Falls ) as the best of the bunch (along with Stuart Cloete’s Rags Of Glory, for the Boer War).

Having read almost all Smith’s Africa novels, I have to say that after a while the stories become somewhat formulaic — but that does not take away from their wonderful pacing, excellent settings and gripping conclusions.  In fact, it says quite a lot that I, knowing all that, still have read and continue to read his books as soon as they appear on the (digital) shelves.  In other words, even though I pretty much know what’s going to happen within the first few chapters, I still continue to read because at all times, I learn stuff about the location(s) of the stories and their characters.

Sooon there’ll be no more Wilbur Smith novels, and I have to say, a little joy has gone out of my reading world.



  1. I read a few of his books, but knowing nothing much about Africa, they just never grabbed me the way books about Japan do. I also read several books by Geoffrey Jenkins about South Africa and Namibia that intrigued me. I think I might have liked to see those places, then. When I looked last, none of his books were on Kindle.

  2. I started reading about So Af with;
    The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
    Then I read the River God series by Wilber Smith, I ended up buying all his books over time. He really could weave a story. Will miss new books by him.

    1. The River God series may have been the most fun books he ever wrote. Taita is quite preposterous at times, the biggest egoist in history, but the stories are really engrossing, even the last book which was very over the top. Smith was a terrific story teller; The Sunbird is one of his best. The Courtneys stories do become a bit mechanical at times, agreed. He had a wonderful and long career. RIP.

  3. I am saddened. To my dallying experience, he was the quintessential Big Africa author whose touch of the exotic and dramatic was just unique put him in a wholly different genre and class than my reading contemporaries of Clancy, Cussler and Turtledove. Down with the flu in middle school, I read River God, all 534 pages, in a day; enthralled with a BIG story, rich both in scope and in the lives of the characters, to which George R.R. Martin could only aspire. And, you know, other “plot” reasons.

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