Lion Hunter: A Novel

Annette Anthony

A rendezvous between two world powers in August 1941 would result in policy changes for Allied nations worldwide. British Prime Minister Churchill and US President Roosevelt drafted the Atlantic Charter off the coast of Newfoundland, not far from the newly erected American naval base. The Charter was later issued as a statement which outlined eight principles for the Allied nations during and after World War II. The Charter would provide the groundwork for the establishment of the United Nations years later.

What would the world powers look like if this meeting never happened? John Clarke’s first novel, Lion Hunter, presents that as a distinct possibility.  Lion Hunter is a historical fiction that takes place throughout the days and weeks leading up to this pivotal meeting of powers. Its lead character, Hans Farber, is a German spy that is tasked by his superior, Admiral Canaris, to assassinate Churchill once news of the Newfoundland meeting is leaked. With the downfall of Churchill, a weakened Britain would be a prime target for Nazi invasion. Farber travels throughout Europe and onto Newfoundland soil to carry out his orders, however, his journey plagued with obstacles, second guesses and chance meetings by a number of characters.

Throughout the first half of the novel, several stories are told by a number of characters in various geographic locations. Although the reader travels from place to place, and reads of various players in these first few chapters, it is done with clarity and ease. Reading about the events of other characters and how it will shape future events provides added anticipation to that of Farber’s own journey. The second half of the novel focuses on the events in Newfoundland, with Farber travelling between Ship Harbour, Placentia Bay and St. John’s. On the island, Farber must always keep a step ahead of his opponents, from both political camps and beyond, to ensure his orders are carried out.

Farber’s character experiences personal growth throughout the novel and the reader witnesses his growth from Nazi spy to something altogether unexpected beyond his original role. Such development occurs as he allows himself to become involved with people and places that were not supposed to affect him. The author’s knowledge of the geography and military operations adds depth to the story. Details and imagery of both Europe and Newfoundland are brought to life in the story. Although some events in the storyline were predictable, the author provides surprising details that will keep the reader in suspense until the end of the novel. Relationships between main and secondary characters are tied together effectively, and timelines are clear and precise.

Lion Hunter would make a great addition to any public library especially in Atlantic Canada. History buffs and historical fiction enthusiasts alike will enjoy the “what if” moments raised in the novel.

Lion hunter : a novel by John Clarke. St. John’s, NL : Flanker Press, 2011. 185 p.

Annette Anthony is Regional Librarian, Fisheries and Oceans Canada.