Thursday, February 17, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Book: The Eye of the Tiger by Wilbur Smith

THE EYE OF THE TIGER by Wilbur Smith, first published in 1975.  On  its face, this is a crime novel, an adventure story, a light hearted romance with a love story too.

When I first read it, it was as if the protagonist had stepped out of Hemingway's To Have and Have Not (Scribner Classics), in a delightful way.  For although this is also a charter fishing boat tale, and although the protagonist is similar to Hemingway's Harry Morgan (played by Humphrey Bogart in the film), he is not so cynical but rather more light-heartedly existential.  A jaded, sardonic Bogart could not have played Wilbur Smith's protagonist.

My wife and I recently listened to the abridged audio book, and it was very good, but there is nothing like the first reading of the novel.  It was published in 1975, in an era of unparalleled sexual and economic freedom.  Art Bourgeau, in The Mystery Lover's Companion (1986), called it Smith's masterpiece, "possibly the greatest adventure novel ever written."

The novel garnered a large international readership and ardent fans who sponsered special editions, but still not much respect.  And while there have been many fine movies made of Smith's other novels, this one never made it to the screen.  Sylvester Stallone bought the movie rights, and it looked as if he cast himself in the lead, but somehow the movie fell through.

One cannot read the title of the book now without thinking of the rock song, written and sung by Survivor for the soundtrack of the Sylvester Stallone movie, Rocky III.  You should read Jim Peterik's story behind the writing of the song at this link.  I sometimes ran to that song back in the 1980s, and I can conjure up the sound of that tiger's heartbeat any time.

Wikipedia, at this link, shows the amazing number of parodies, covers, and influences the song has had over the years.  There are a number of fine covers available for free at youtube, mostly by trios or even a full orchestra.  Igor Presnyakov, while nothing to look at, generates amazing sounds in his solo version on acoustic guitar, at this link.

And if you've a hankering for some other charter boat novels, you might like my list at Amazon, at this link. 

This is a tag-along, one of many contributions to the Friday's Forgotten Book series, here.


  1. Back in the 1970s I read all the Wilbur Smith adventure novels I could get my hands on. Sadly, the High Adventure genre seems to have gone the way of disco.

  2. I always think of Smith as a writer of thrillers set in Africa. But this is the same writer. Hm, may have to try one.

  3. Smith was another of those writers whose work always seemed to be around, but I haven't tried him, suspecting at the time that if I wished to, his books would be readily available. (I do actively suppress any memory of Survivor.)

  4. I am sure I saw a made-for-TV movie that had elements of this book in the 1990s, but have not seen any mention of this anywhere.