Inspired by Andrew Warren’s similar series of posts (parts 1, 2 and 3) for his Thomas Caine series and with a nod to Ian Fleming, I thought I’d do my own version of Thrilling Locations covering the many exotic global destinations visited in my novel, The Benevolent Deception. The novel commences in West and East Africa, Central Asia and South America, and this is the subject of the first part in this series.
Niger Delta, Nigeria
The action opens in the polluted oil fields of the Niger Delta. Several multi-national oil and gas companies are well established in the southeast of Africa’s most populous country drilling with both onshore and offshore rigs. Oil spills, leaky pipes and fiery ruptures caused by sabotage, mismanagement, corruption, bunkering and rebel forces has turned the mouth of the Niger Delta into one of the world’s worse environmental disasters.
The Benevolent Deception opens with Simon Ashcroft, a former intelligence officer turned security contractor transporting an oil executive from the Port Harcourt Airport to the refinery where he works. Then they are attacked by MEND forces and Simon’s day suddenly escalates out of control . . .
The forces who attack Simon are MEND, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, one of the largest militant groups fighting the Nigerian government and the oil companies in the region. They are a heavily armed force and commonly patrol the Delta region on speed boats, attacking refineries, bunkering oil and kidnapping westerners.
Simon Ashcroft soon finds himself in a shootout with MEND soldiers, and then in the aftermath having to negotiate a prisoner swap. Because Simon sees the problems in the Delta from multiple viewpoints with no clear solution, he tries to negotiate a truce with mixed results, but not without compromising himself.
Nigeria is Africa’s largest country with a population of 190 million people. Despite positive economic growth 100 million Nigerians live on less than a $US1 a day, and most of them survive in slums which Simon has to navigate to get from one side of the Delta to the other. He watches as a slum is dismantled by a construction company protected by the moonlighting security forces of the Nigerian Army, and realises he is powerless to help these people, or is he?
The largest city in the Niger Delta region and home to the foreign oil and gas companies is Port Harcourt. The security company that Simon works for is located in this busy tropical metropolis of 2 million people, and it is here that Simon learns of a new and intriguing assignment that will take him to Kenya . . .
You can read more about the state of the Niger Detla in this great article on the National Geographic website, “Curse of the Black Gold” by By Tom O’Neill.
Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan
While Simon is battling it out on multiple fronts in the Niger Delta, half a world away, U.S. Secret Service Agent Peri Keser is having her own bad day inside the most secure facility in Afghanistan, the U.S. controlled Bagram Air Field. Foreign defence personnel here have peaked at 30,000 or more, supported by a vast array of military aircraft and ground vehicles. Despite with drawls from Afghanistan over the last few years, the airfield remains sizable today.
Peri has recently been removed from U.S. President protective duty because of a malaria infection, and is recovering in Bagram’s military hospital when she learns Air Force One has just been shot out of the sky. The flight she should have been on, protecting the President . . .
Despite the heavy fortifications, no one is safe inside Bagram. Afghan insurgents like to take ‘pot shots’ at the air field with rockets, hoping to take out a serviceman or two, or ten. One such insurgent manages to take down Air Force One, and Peri can’t imagine how with the aircraft’s impressive array of electronic counter measures.
She soon discovers the President’s corpse at the plane wreck, just outside the base at the same time the President is giving a speech, live from Air Force One on its way to Berlin. How can the Leader of the Free World be both alive and dead at the same time?
You can read more about the immense size and structure of the Bagram Airfield in this Wired magazine article “U.S. Supersizes Afghan Mega-Base as Withdrawal Date Looms” by Spencer Ackerman and in this article “Danger Room in Afghanistan: Defending Bagram (Part I)” by Nathan Hodge.
Next we are introduced to Conner Rafferty, an Irish journalist hoping to score an interview with a prominent leader of the Colombian rebel organisation FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and to do so Conner must travel into the heart of the Amazon Rainforest and the tiny town of Miraflores. While logging is the primary industry of the town, the local economy is dominated by coca paste, used for the illegal production of cocaine.
Conner soon finds that he is a prisoner of the FARC. They tell him he will be executed for leading U.S. Ranger soldiers to their location, who are systematically destroying their coca production factories. Many of the FARC soldiers are young women, and many not by choice. Here is an image of a young female FARC solider not unlike the unnamed character who is tasked with executing Conner.
Year ago I travelled through the Amazon in Ecuador and it remains one of the most spectacular locations I’ve ever visited. Despite deforestation I couldn’t believe how huge the forests are and how much of the continent it covers.
Bugs and water everywhere, a canopy 70m above us shutting out most of the sun, and no large animals to be seen anywhere because they are well hidden. The variety of plant life in the jungle is incredible, and I did almost step on a pit viper. Oh, and I swam in a tributary of the Amazon, where we were told, there were also piranhas.
Here is an article from the BBC on “Who are the FARC?” written after the signing of a revised peace agreement between Colombia’s largest rebel group and the Colombian government.
The last of the four main characters from The Benevolent Deception is Casey Irvine. She’s an American tourist on a safari holiday with her boyfriend trying to mend a failing relationship. Her life is about to become very complicated and dangerous, but she doesn’t know this just yet.
Samburu National Reserve is a game park in the semi-desert arid regions of Kenya’s north. Wildlife only survives here in abundance because of a river flowing off Mount Kenya to the south. Casey’s safari encounter includes a stampeding herd of zebra, but what spooked them?
Poaching is a serious problem not only in Kenya but across all of Africa. 150,000 elephants have been killed in Africa the last 5 years and they are predicted to become extinct in 10 years. Demand for ivory in China and rhino horns for ornamental daggers in the Middle East are driving these two species to extinction.
The multi-billion-dollar industry means poachers are well equipment, with hunting rifles, assault rifles and fast moving vehicles. In many countries in Africa, poachers are considered terrorists.
Most of the Samburu scenes are from personal experience when I was on safari here. The landscape is similar to the outback of Australia, but the wildlife if very different. I stayed in a camp of the local Samburu people, who kept throwing spears into the darkness to scare off a leopard patrolling the camp. Baboons tried to break into my tent in the early morning to steal food, and when they hiss at you with their sharp-teethed mouths, they can be daunting.
I saw elephants and rhinos in the wild in Africa. I hope to go back one day soon and still see them again.
If you want to learn more about the state of elephant poaching and the horrors of the illegal ivory trade, this is a fantastic documentary and really moved me when I watched it, The Ivory Game by directors Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani.
The next part in this series will focus on Central Kenya, Berlin and the United Kingdom, where the action of The Benevolent Deception intensifies and the geopolitical mystery deepens.
The Benevolent Deception
Reviewers say “The Benevolent Deception is a fast paced, globe-trotting thriller which boasts breath-taking settings, cinematic action scenes and an impressive cast of diverse and multi-layered characters”, “If you like Jason Bourne books you will love this one too!” and “I do love Tom Clancy, but in this writer, Tom Clancy has met his match! Wonderful, excellent, and a very fun book to read.”
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