The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian

Published: 2022 Penguin Random House 1. First lines 2. Cover: Penguin Random House 3. Tree in Africa – Own work 4. Lioness head [Public Domain] via Public Domain Pictures

Hollywood actress Katie Barstow is honeymooning with her husband David Hill and a group of friends in the Serengeti, Tanganyika in 1964. Their group, along with a number of guides, are violently kidnapped by Russian mercenaries. The group is separated, and taken in Land Rovers on a journey to an unknown location for unknown reasons.

“The mantra for most of us? Just stay alive.”

This is not just a story of a kidnapping, although it is a gripping thriller with graphic descriptions of violence. Another major thread is the backstory of a group of Hollywood friends, self-nicknamed “The Lions of Hollywood”. The author has structured the novel to develop each character whilst also describing the events. Los Angeles Times commented that “the strength of “The Lioness” lies not in those twists and turns but in the backstories that illuminate them”. The New York Times has another perspective: “With so many different characters, each with a distinctive personality and back story, we are also likely to see at least parts of ourselves.” Kirkus Reviews has a different opinion: “a proliferation of voices whose competing perspectives fragment rather than advance the story”.


“Well, this safari sure as hell went to pot,” she said dryly. “Remind me never to use that travel agent again.”

“The rhinos know we’re a threat, and the lions have learned we can be very risky prey,” … “But to the Russians and Americans? We’re just pawns on the chess board. Harmless and expendable.”

“If you want a happy ending, that depends, on where you stop your story.”


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