Title: The Diamond Hunter
Author: Fiona McIntosh
Published: November 1st 2019
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Rating: 4.5 stars
The new historical blockbuster by the bestselling author of The Pearl Thief.
‘It won’t matter how many diamonds you find if you lose the love of your child.’
When six-year-old Clementine Knight loses her mother to malaria during the 1870s diamond rush in southern Africa, she is left to be raised by her destitute, alcoholic father, James. Much of Clementine’s care falls to their trusty Zulu companion, Joseph One-Shoe, and the unlikely pair form an unbreakable bond.
When the two men uncover a large, flawless diamond, James believes he has finally secured their future, but the discovery of the priceless gem comes at a huge cost. A dark bargain is struck to do whatever it takes to return Clementine to a respectable life at the Grant family’s sprawling estate in northern England – while the diamond disappears.
Years on, long-buried memories of Clementine’s childhood in Africa and her beloved Joseph One-Shoe are triggered, as she questions who she can trust. To solve the mystery of what happened to her loved ones all those years ago, she must confront a painful history and finally bring justice to bear.
From the harsh desert of Africa’s Kimberley diamond mine to the misty, green plains of northern England, The Diamond Hunter is a breathtaking adventure story about trust and betrayal, the ultimate quest for truth, and a love that is truly priceless.
I have to concur with the cover quote, provided by fellow book reviewer Book’d Out, which states, ‘Fiona McIntosh is an extraordinary storyteller.’ McIntosh returns with her annual historical release, The Diamond Hunter. This new tale from one of our most gifted Australian novelists takes the reader from the harsh grounds of the diamond hunting trade in Southern Africa, through to the bustling streets of England’s capital, and to a wealthy estate in Northumberland. Along the way, we bear witness to a consuming tale of love, family ties, commitments, honour, betrayal, trust, secrets and lies. The Diamond Hunter hooked me in from the first sentence, until the final word of Fiona McIntosh’s latest historical tale.
When The Diamond Hunter opens we are acquainted with a young girl by the name of Clementine Knight. It is a sad introduction to this child’s life, as Clementine’s mother passes away from malaria, while her family are based in Southern Africa, as part of the diamond rush. It is a family tragedy that leaves little Clementine in the care of her father, who is ravaged by grief and fueled by alcohol. Clementine turns to a gentle male figure in her life, a Zulu man affectionately named Joseph One-Shoe, who is her family’s companion. Together, this unlikely pair form a friendship that withstands time, distance and class relations. The discovery of a spectacular diamond marks the beginning of yet another tragedy for Clementine to weather. The unearthing of this gem and the events that transpire following the discovery of this rare diamond sends Clementine back to her family’s ancestral home, back in England. As for that very special diamond… it vanishes, without a trace. We follow Clementine’s life as she grows into a young woman of great respect and décor. However, Clementine cannot put the past behind her, despite her privileged status. She is plagued by memories of her upbringing in Africa, along with her loyal companion Joseph. It sends Clementine on a vital quest to finally put the past to rest, with startling and upsetting revelations. Questions of justice, entitlement and integrity prevail in this unforgettable historical undertaking.
The period in the lead up to Christmas is always a highly anticipated time of the year for me as a reader and I’m sure I’m not alone. We have so many wonderful releases to look forward to indulging in over the holiday period. Fiona McIntosh is an author who is always on the very top of my list when it comes to Christmas releases, though I did sneak The Diamond Hunter in prior to the Christmas holiday period. I am so glad I did as I enjoyed it immensely.
The Diamond Hunter sees Fiona McIntosh travel a little further back in the history books compared to her more recent releases. We are immersed in the world inhabited by Clementine Knight, accompanying her father, who is a diamond hunter by trade and her mother in Kimberley, Southern Africa. We soon develop a strong picture of this location and time period. Kimberley is the site for the diamond excavation trade, where prospectors came to uncover Africa’s riches, in the form of diamonds. Clementine’s father strikes it lucky in this department, but it is tainted by the loss of his wife to malaria. This is a pivotal life event that impacts the family greatly. It leads to further tragedy and eventually, Clementine must leave Africa for her family’s home back in Northern England. I did feel that the African based sequences were the far more superior aspects of The Diamond Hunter. McIntosh excels in her depiction of the sights, sounds, actions and way of life of the ambitious diamond hunters of Southern Africa. Part one of The Diamond Hunter was seeped in a heavy, but deeply satisfying history, that I absolutely consumed.
Part two of The Diamond Hunter changes tack and we are transported to the streets of London, followed by the entitled way of life inhabited by Clementine and her family in Northumberland. Clementine is now a grown woman. She has her own opinions, expectations and aspirations. On the whole, I found Clementine a very appealing, accepting and a non judgmental character. Clementine stands by her beliefs with a sense of conviction that I admired. Loosely tied into this segment of the book is the gentle romance that sparks between Clementine and a prospective suitor by the name of Will Axford. Their accompanying love story is plagued by some woes, concerns and acts of righteousness. However, I found the romance understated and it never seemed to detract from the central mystery of Clementine’s unresolved past. The questionable actions of Clementine’s uncle, who is charged with her care, ignites a journey into the past. Clementine’s expedition unearths some surprising and shocking revelations. Clementine’s uncle Reggie was a man that I really had trouble with, I seemed to sit on the fence in regards to his character. It is hard to go into this any further, without revealing pertinent details about the book, but this character issued me with quite a moral dilemma!
I think readers will really embrace the touching friendships that spurns between Clementine and Joseph One-Shoe in Africa. This is a defining part of the novel that gives the book a great deal of heart. It demonstrates that we can never truly leave our past behind, and there are special people that enter our lives that we can never cast aside. The pairing of Clementine and Joseph was quite unusual at first glance, but when I read further into the author’s helpful notes at the close of the book, I was appreciative of the personal motivations on behalf of Fiona McIntosh’s portrayal of this unlikely bond. Through the character of Joseph One-Shoe and his background, we bear witness to a world marked by injustice and prejudice. A glimpse into the world of compounds in the region in which the African based scenes in the book were based simply broke my heart. However, I am glad that I am now aware of the existence of these enclosures. My sincere thanks go out to Fiona McIntosh for all her detailed research in this aspect of the book and the novel’s historical footing in general.
A tumultuous journey awaits the reader by the close of The Diamond Hunter, where disclosures about the past are finally aired, revealing a nest of lies, secrets, deception and treachery. Clementine is finally able to lay the ghosts of the past to rest, with sense of restitution and acceptance. The question of Clementine’s future happiness hangs in the balance as The Diamond Hunter reaches its inevitable, but unforgettable conclusion. The Diamond Hunter is another triumph from one of our country’s most treasured storytellers and it is one book you really need to luxuriate in over the upcoming Christmas holidays.
The Diamond Hunter by Fiona McIntosh was published on November 1st 2019 by Penguin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Diamond Hunter, Fiona McIntosh, visit here.
*I wish to thank Penguin Books Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
The Diamond Hunter is book #150 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge