Book Review: Death in the Long Grass

By Ken Bailey

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in the Long Grass – Peter Hathaway Capstick (St. Martin’s Press, 1977)

For many baby boomers, Peter Hathaway Capstick’s in the Long Grass was our introduction to literature that described the excitement, and danger, of hunting Africa. In fact, this may well be the most popular African hunting book of all time.

Born in New Jersey, Capstick gave up his career in Wall Street finance to pursue a dream of becoming a professional hunter. He started his newfound profession in Central and America hunting jaguars, spent a few years in the sporting travel industry, including a stint at Winchester Adventures Inc., and then joined Luangwa Safaris in Zambia as a PH in the late 1960s. Over the ensuing years, he also hunted Botswana, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), and Ethiopia. Known today for an impressive library of published books, 12 in total, Death in the Long Grass was his first and certainly his most popular.

Each chapter in Death in the Long Grass is dedicated to a single species and is loaded with harrowing stories of hunters and others who found themselves face-to-face with the animal in question, often with fatal results. Most of the stories originate from Capstick’s personal experiences or from tales related to him by those who were there, bringing more than a tinge of authenticity to each frightful encounter. The Big 7 receive a dedicated chapter each, as do snakes; lastly, there’s a chapter describing fatal and near-fatal encounters with some of lesser-known killers.

What separates Capstick’s writing from the pack is his creative and colourful descriptions; he’s a master of metaphors. He has a unique and imaginative way of describing an incident that the reader can relate to. Over the years, many have suggested that Capstick’s tales are “polished” or “embellished”. This may well be the case, but I have no problem with him having extended himself a little literary license. I read his books, in large measure, to be entertained, and few writers depict encounters with dangerous game in as entertaining a manner as Capstick does. If you want to raise your pulse a few beats, do yourself a favour and pick up a copy of Death in the Long Grass.

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