When Sidney Marsh, a Mississippi transplant living in New York, gets a plum assignment at the travel agency where she works—a long “familiarization” trip to Africa—she thinks she’s in for nothing but spa luxury, open bars, and quality time with her colleague and best friend, Jay Wilson. Then she gets pick-pocketed in Cape Town, a fellow travel agent goes missing, and monkeys break into the room of two other colleagues and steal nothing but their camera’s memory card. In Game Drive, the second Sidney Marsh mystery by Memphis author Marie Moore, Sidney’s earnest but naïve instincts give new meaning to the term “amateur sleuth”—and put her squarely in the crosshairs of bad guys she never suspects.
Moore comes by her subject matter honestly. After spending a career at a small weekly newspaper in her home state of Mississippi—writing, editing, even taking photographs and selling ads—she opened a retail travel agency and set about earning all the major travel designations of the industry. She spent fifteen years leading group tours and traveling to more than sixty countries, so when she writes in Game Drive about cocktail parties in Cape Town and safaris in open Rovers with armed wildlife spotters, the descriptions seem very real. “We lurched across a shallow ditch, wheels spinning in the dry, sandy soil of the empty creek-bed,” Moore writes. “Then we turned left again, going deeper into the scrub, bumping over rocks. Branches scraped the sides of the vehicle. I grabbed at the side of the Rover, trying to brace myself.” On the cue of the spotter, the Rover abruptly stops: “We sat staring, camera shutters clicking, as a pair of giraffes moved gracefully through the bush, pausing now and then to pluck leaves with their long, blue-black tongues from the tops of the acacia trees. Finally, majestically, they moved on, striding smoothly out of sight.”
Of course, there are many mishaps here that readers can probably assume are not common for tour operators. In one scene a leopard dines on a hotel guest, leaving his mangled body beneath the tree branch where the sated beast takes a post-meal slumber. In another, a guest grabs a rifle from a muscled guard and proceeds to shoot a fellow traveler instead of the raging-mad elephant he expected to charge them. But such scenes, however unlikely, are certainly possible and help create an entertaining yarn, especially one in which virtually every tragedy is followed by what any Southerner can appreciate as much as a satisfying mystery: another sumptuous buffet.
Marie Moore will discuss Game Drive at 6 p.m. on April 15 at The Booksellers at Laurelwood in Memphis.