Introducing “Shelter Rock,” a thriller novel by MP Miles
BY MP MILES
A new novel set in Africa that showcases the natural beauty of the continent and its people has recently been released by Troubador in the UK. Shelter Rock is an extraordinary ‘based-on-true-events’ thriller and tells of a Swazi spy and his pursuit of a boy who walked from Cape Town to Cairo while carrying Africa’s biggest secret.
I was the ‘boy’, and I never intended aged eighteen to walk alone through Africa. It happened without much conscious thought or any planning, a compulsion that I had no control over. For six months in 1982 I travelled from a beach on the blue South Atlantic, through Zimbabwe’s National Parks, over the rusty bridge at Victoria Falls, along Chinese railways in Zambia, onboard turn-of-the-century steam ships up Great Lakes, through forest and desert in central East Africa, on roped together barges up the Nile in Sudan, to the pyramids at Giza and a shimmering Mediterranean sea, all without any idea why I was doing it. To this day, I’m still not sure.
Surprisingly it isn’t the iconic sights of Africa’s wildlife, waterfalls and mountains that stand out in my memory of that time, but everyday moments in the less frequently-travelled places: in Zambia, grey-footed baboons sitting beside a very straight road through the miombo, the woodlands and savanna in much of south-central Africa, calmly watching traffic go by like spectators at a race track; a line of smiling children who took me by the hand and led me through their village; the quiet dawn after a storm on Lake Tanganyika and the laughing vendors paddling out in canoes over sparkling water to sell fruit. In Rwanda I watched the sun rise on a pink winding road through the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’, and in the Sudd waved to small fishing communities of two or three thatched homes, completely isolated from the world and perched on dry ground in the middle of the Nile.
Even more than this I remember the people, those that helped. Near the town of Pemba, still two hundred kilometres from Lusaka, a girl led me through the rain to spend the night with cattle herders in the comfort of a huge hollow baobab tree, happily sharing their cornmeal porridge, nshima, and home-brewed shake-shake beer. At Loki in northern Kenya, Turkana women made use of the hard runway to pound palm nuts, lifting colourful fabric wraps to cover their shy smiling faces, while the men sat on small one-legged wooden stools and taught me to chop meat with a steel circular disc, a wrist knife worn like a bracelet. In Rwanda, Somali truck drivers, calm, quiet and dignified, would share their plain boiled pasta for dinner and I’d sleep with them underneath their old lorry, listening to them talk softly in their own language, feeling safe and happy. On the east bank of the Nile, from Luxor to Sohag, I ate and slept in a different village every night with honest, kind Egyptian farmers.
Shelter Rock describes this pulse-pounding adventure and reveals a secret that had to be kept at all costs. In the story, South Africa is under attack from all sides when Elanza, a politically-connected heiress blinded by disease and looking for love before it was too late, meets a naïve boy. Ralph, eighteen and innocent, has accidentally stumbled upon Elanza – and South Africa’s biggest secret.
When Ralph disappears to walk the length of Africa overland, a Swazi spy comes into both of their lives. Angel Rots is uniquely qualified for his official mission to find Ralph and a private mission to settle an old score, but in a pursuit from Cape Town to Cairo, Ralph is always one step ahead and Angel starts to ask questions. Why is this kid so important? Looking for answers, Angel discovers a secret that challenges his own loyalties, and could change the course of history. In this chase that stretches from illegal nightclubs in South Africa and leads to a final confrontation in the bazaars of Old Cairo, no one would make it home without an angel watching over them.
I’ve had my own share of adventure too. Like Ralph in Shelter Rock I was eighteen, alone, walked two thousand miles and travelled eight thousand, kept going with a few interesting tropical diseases, helped pygmies burn down a brothel in Burundi, dodged arrest for spying in Uganda and escaped from thieving nuns in Sudan, and lived for six months on two hundred dollars.
Why I choose to undertake what seems now a fool-hardy escapade is difficult to answer, but it set the tone for the rest of my life. After escaping the confines of my small home town I studied agriculture, and ended up trading fresh produce with farmers, travelling around the world, an experience that led me to some involvement with the intelligence services of my own country. Along the way I learnt to fly, teach scuba diving, and sail. For the last ten years I’ve lived in the Caribbean’s Virgin Islands onboard a yacht. I’ve had an unusual, sometimes fool-hardy, life.
My escapade from Cape to Cairo nearly forty years ago wasn’t easy but along the way I discovered a lot about the beauty of Africa, its kind and generous people, and about myself. I guess that was why I did it, and I thought I’d share that by writing Shelter Rock.