Those In Peril by Wilbur Smith Macmillan The world's best-known white African writer, 78-year Wilbur Smith, has been cranking out mega-selling adventure yarns since his breakthrough, When The Lion Feeds, which ignited his prolific career in 1964. Most of his novels, 33 to date, are set in a sepia-tinged Africa of the colonial era, usually in South Africa and Zimbabwe (in the days when it was known as Rhodesia). He's renowned for fastidiously researching the backgrounds to his fast-paced books. And they travel well, as airport bookstores around the globe attest. With a Wilbur Smith you can reasonably be assured of some first-class escapism, even if you're travelling economy class. Perhaps he should have quit while he was ahead. Those In Peril is atrocious, and quite possibly his worst novel. Perversely it reads like a debut effort, with its one-dimensional characters going hither and yon along a linear storyline, childish discourse, and comically stilted dialogue. The heroine is Hazel Bannock, oil baroness at the helm of the globe-straddling Bannock Oil Corporation. When Bannock's college-age daughter is kidnapped from her private yacht, somewhere in the Indian Ocean, by crudely stereotyped Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, Bannock receives a demand for US$20 billion ransom. To back up the threat Bannock is sent a video of her daughter being gang-raped by 10 of the kidnappers. This constitutes some of the most graphic and upsetting prose ever committed to print. The book reaches its nadir when - warning, plot spoilers ahead - Bannock receives the severed heads of both her daughter and her mother, bottled in jars. After the initial shock - enough to render a normal mortal catatonic for the rest of his or her life - Bannock simply moves home to an American lakeside retreat in order to have another child with the book's Action Man hero to replace the daughter who has just been decapitated. So, happy-ever-after then. Good grief. It's like Smith has forfeited all understanding of the human condition. This hateful piece of work reveals a little too much about its author's apparently warped psyche. Totally vile.