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The Lioness
Cover of The Lioness
The Lioness
A Novel
Borrow Borrow
NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER • A Washington Post Best Book of the Year • A luxurious African safari turns deadly for a Hollywood starlet and her entourage in this riveting historical thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of The Flight Attendant.
"The best possible combination of Hemingway and Agatha Christie — a gorgeously written story about the landscape and risks of Africa, whose edge-of-your-seat plot makes it impossible to put down.”
—Jodi Picoult, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Wish You Were Here

Tanzania, 1964. When Katie Barstow, A-list actress, and her new husband, David Hill, decide to bring their Hollywood friends to the Serengeti for their honeymoon, they envision giraffes gently eating leaves from the tall acacia trees, great swarms of wildebeests crossing the Mara River, and herds of zebras storming the sandy plains. Their glamorous guests—including Katie’s best friend, Carmen Tedesco, and Terrance Dutton, the celebrated Black actor who stars alongside Katie in the highly controversial film Tender Madness—will spend their days taking photos, and their evenings drinking chilled gin and tonics back at camp, as the local Tanzanian guides warm water for their baths. The wealthy Americans expect civilized adventure: fresh ice from the kerosene-powered ice maker, dinners of cooked gazelle meat, and plenty of stories to tell over lunch back on Rodeo Drive.
What Katie and her glittering entourage do not expect is this: a kidnapping gone wrong, their guides bleeding out in the dirt, and a team of Russian mercenaries herding their hostages into Land Rovers, guns to their heads. As the powerful sun gives way to night, the gunmen shove them into abandoned huts and Katie Barstow, Hollywood royalty, prays for a simple thing: to see the sun rise one more time. A blistering story of fame, race, love, and death set in a world on the cusp of great change, The Lioness is a vibrant masterpiece from one of our finest storytellers.
NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER • A Washington Post Best Book of the Year • A luxurious African safari turns deadly for a Hollywood starlet and her entourage in this riveting historical thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of The Flight Attendant.
"The best possible combination of Hemingway and Agatha Christie — a gorgeously written story about the landscape and risks of Africa, whose edge-of-your-seat plot makes it impossible to put down.”
—Jodi Picoult, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Wish You Were Here

Tanzania, 1964. When Katie Barstow, A-list actress, and her new husband, David Hill, decide to bring their Hollywood friends to the Serengeti for their honeymoon, they envision giraffes gently eating leaves from the tall acacia trees, great swarms of wildebeests crossing the Mara River, and herds of zebras storming the sandy plains. Their glamorous guests—including Katie’s best friend, Carmen Tedesco, and Terrance Dutton, the celebrated Black actor who stars alongside Katie in the highly controversial film Tender Madness—will spend their days taking photos, and their evenings drinking chilled gin and tonics back at camp, as the local Tanzanian guides warm water for their baths. The wealthy Americans expect civilized adventure: fresh ice from the kerosene-powered ice maker, dinners of cooked gazelle meat, and plenty of stories to tell over lunch back on Rodeo Drive.
What Katie and her glittering entourage do not expect is this: a kidnapping gone wrong, their guides bleeding out in the dirt, and a team of Russian mercenaries herding their hostages into Land Rovers, guns to their heads. As the powerful sun gives way to night, the gunmen shove them into abandoned huts and Katie Barstow, Hollywood royalty, prays for a simple thing: to see the sun rise one more time. A blistering story of fame, race, love, and death set in a world on the cusp of great change, The Lioness is a vibrant masterpiece from one of our finest storytellers.
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  • From the cover

    Chapter One

    Katie Barstow

    Hollywood royalty gathered Saturday night at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, where Katie Barstow wed Rodeo Drive gallerist David Hill. The two of them left afterward for Paris and then the wilds of Africa on a “safari.” Rumor has it that the actress is bringing along an entourage into the jungle that will include her brother and sister-in-law, Billy and Margie Stepanov; her agent, Peter Merrick; her publicist, Reggie Stout; actress Carmen Tedesco and her husband, Felix Demeter; and Katie’s friend and co-star in the still controversial Tender Madness, Terrance Dutton. The little group has nicknamed themselves the Lions of Hollywood—though anyone who knows Katie Barstow or has seen her on the screen understands that she is the lioness in charge of this pride.

    —The Hollywood Reporter, November 9, 1964

    She was watching the giraffes at the watering hole after breakfast, no longer as awed by their presence as she’d been even four days ago, when she’d first seen a great herd of them eating leaves from a copse of tall umbrella acacia, their heads occasionally bobbing up to stare back, unfazed and not especially alarmed by the humans. Their eyes were sweet. Their horns were the antennae on a child’s extraterrestrial Halloween mask. The inscrutable creatures were wary of these humans, but they felt no need to flee.

    They’d just finished breakfast and were still at their camp. Her husband, David, was on her left, and her brother, Billy, was on her right. Both had their cameras out. Terrance was sitting nearby with his notebook on his knees, sketching the creatures. Katie had known that Terrance was as talented a visual artist as he was an actor—her husband loved his paintings—but she was still stunned by how quickly and how remarkably he was drawing the animals they saw. The eyes of his elephant had broken her heart. Earlier that autumn, when they were still in L.A., David had said it was only a matter of time before he could risk giving the man a show. (“He’s a movie star,” she told David when she heard the hesitation in his voice. “He’s a Black movie star,” David had reminded her, and while he was only acknowledging the backlash he might face from some quarters, she had still felt the need to remind him it was 1964, not 1864. His gallery’s fiscal foundation couldn’t possibly be so weak that it couldn’t withstand blowback from racist critics and so-called connoisseurs.)

    The group, all nine of them and their guides, were about to climb into the Land Rovers and start the drive to the next camp, a journey through the savanna that would take three hours if they didn’t stop, but would, in fact, take seven or eight because they expected to pause often for the Serengeti’s great menagerie of animals. You just never knew what you would see and where you might detour. Yesterday, they had been particularly lucky. They had witnessed the great wildebeest crossing at the Mara River: thousands of wildebeest and zebras storming down the sandy banks into the water and attempting to reach the grass on the other side.

    There were five giraffes this morning, three with their legs splayed awkwardly as they stretched their long necks down to the water to drink. She felt a small pang of guilt that she was taking for granted her witness to their presence, animals over fifteen feet tall—their legs alone were taller than she was—with their cream-colored coats and those iconic tawny spots. She wondered at the way her mind was wandering instead to the differences between coincidence and synchronicity. Her brother, Billy, a psychologist, had...

About the Author-
  • CHRIS BOHJALIAN is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of twenty-three books, including Hour of the Witch, The Red Lotus, Midwives, and The Flight Attendant, which has been made into an HBO Max limited series starring Kaley Cuoco. His other books include The Guest Room; Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands; The Sandcastle Girls; Skeletons at the Feast; and The Double Bind. His novels Secrets of Eden, Midwives, and Past the Bleachers were made into movies, and his work has been translated into more than thirty-five languages. He is also a playwright (Wingspan and Midwives). He lives in Vermont and can be found at chrisbohjalian.com or on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Litsy, and Goodreads, @chrisbohjalian
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from March 28, 2022
    In 1964, Hollywood star Katie Barstow and her Rodeo Drive gallerist husband head to Tanzania for a safari honeymoon, along with an assortment of family and friends, in this devastatingly cunning suspense novel from bestseller Bohjalian (Hour of the Witch). The group includes Katie’s psychologist brother and sister-in-law, an agent, a publicist, an actor and her screenwriter husband, and Katie’s costar in a scandalous film. Shepherded by a private guide in Land Rovers in the Serengeti, they take photos of giraffes, elephants, lions, and wildebeests, while a slew of porters and cooks provide such amenities as waterproof canvas bathtubs, a kerosene-powered ice maker, and a sufficient supply of gin and tonic. The idyll for Katie and crew comes to an end after they become the target of Russian mercenaries, who hold them captive in abandoned huts. Worse follows, including fatal snake bites. Bohjalian does a superb job of judiciously rolling out information of how past transgressions may have led to the heart-stopping episodes of chaos and carnage as the shocking, twist-filled plot builds up to the revelation of “the real reasons for the safari nightmare.” This brilliant whydunit is not to be missed. Agent: Deborah Schneider, Gelfman Schneider Literary.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from September 1, 2022

    Set in the tumultuous Africa of the 1960s, this book tells the story of a safari gone horribly wrong. The guests are a Hollywood star and her new husband, along with her brother, sister-in-law, and some famous friends. Katie Barstow, the star bankrolling the Serengeti trip, expects a fantastic photo safari filled with as much luxury as is possible camping in the wild. It starts out a lovely experience, with giraffes, wildebeests and bucolic sights of other grazing animals. But then, the group is kidnapped by a team of Russians. The party is separated. The guards are gone, and each member of the safari must confront their personal demons in the attempt to survive. Bohjalian (Hour of the Witch) also tackles serious topics of then and today, including homophobia, racism, animal cruelty, and East-West politics. Narrators January LaVoy, Grace Experience, and Gabrielle De Cuir do an excellent job voicing the large cast of characters. VERDICT This is a good read, full of adventure and with twists aplenty.--Cheryl Youse

    Copyright 2022 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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