Excerpt from The King's Rifle by Biyi Bandele, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The King's Rifle

A Novel

By Biyi Bandele

The King's Rifle
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Paperback: Apr 2009,
    224 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt



Two years into the war, on a day so hot and stifling the usually bustling thoroughfares of Cairo were all but deserted, a spare, dishevelled looking Englishman with a stooping gait staggered through the city's dark alleyways and bazaars, jostling with horses, camels, bicycles, mopeds, pushcarts, pedestrians and cars, looking, he said, for a chemist. To every hawker he approached and tried to speak to, on narrow, congested streets wafting with the odour of ginger, cumin, sandalwood and mint; and at every shisha-pipe-smoke-filled coffee house he wandered into, it seemed, as he struggled to speak but seemed only to slur, that he was looking for something which existed only in his fever-sapped imagination; that much was clear, that this strange man, dressed in a British army uniform that hung loosely on his shrunken frame, and wearing a major's rank, was in the grips of a fierce and crippling fever. He shivered under the blistering heat, his teeth clattering as if he were in the deep chill of an English winter's day.

"Chemist," he mouthed. "Atabrine." But the words came out in a meaningless slur. Clearly the man was ill. And yet his deep-set, pale blue eyes glared defiantly from a bony, thin face overgrown with a shaggy beard.

Curses and insults followed him as he staggered from one side of the street to the other without looking where he was going, and as he crossed the road back and back again without any apparent concern for his life or for oncoming traffic. A donkey-cart messenger who ended up in a sewage drain when he swerved to avoid the man ran after him and heartily wished divorce on his parents; a jitney driver who stepped on his brakes only just in time leaned out of his car and threatened, firstly, to impregnate the officer's mother, and secondly, to make a cuckold of him, and thirdly, to run him over next time. Then, in swift contrition, and asking God to forgive him for the sins of his mouth, the driver bundled the crazed British officer into his car and, having failed to draw out a lucid response when he asked where to take him, drove straight to the Continental Hotel in the city centre, which everyone knew was packed with Allied officers. There he palmed him off to the concierge, like an unwanted gift, and dashed back to his car, speeding off before the loathsome offering could be forced back on him. The driver need not have worried. He had brought Major Wingate back to the right place.

The concierge's face was creased with worry.

"Is the major all right?" he asked.

The major was far from all right. But the ride in the car seemed to have given him back his tongue. "Take your filthy hands off me," he snapped. "I am not a cripple."

The concierge winced and then bowed apologetically. "Of course, Major Wingate," he said. "Forgive me, sir. I was only trying to assist."

Wingate was shaking violently, as if he was having a spasm. "The only help I need right now," he quivered, "is Atabrine. I must have Atabrine."

"Atabrine," said the concierge. He considered the word, mouthed it a few times, tried various ways of pronouncing it, paused thoughtfully and then shook his head. "The name sounds familiar, sir," he said gravely.

"What name?"

"Atabrine, sir. Is he one of our guests?"

The world spun around Wingate as he headed into the lobby. He went to the reception desk, ignoring an officer calling out to him from the crowded bar.

"Tayib, Tayib," he said with obvious relief when he saw the receptionist, "get me some Atabrine."

"But Major Wingate," Tayib beamed solicitously, "I got you a whole bottle of Atabrine only yesterday."

"All gone," Wingate muttered.

"All, sir?" A line of sweat broke out on the receptionist's brow.

"I took the last two tablets this morning."

Excerpted from The King's Rifle by Biyi Bandele Copyright © 2009 by Biyi Bandele. Excerpted by permission of Amistad Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    The Stranger on the Train
    by Abbie Taylor
    The opening chapter of Abbie Taylor's debut novel, The Stranger on the Train, took me right back to ...
  • Book Jacket
    Night Film
    by Marisha Pessl
    One of the central tenets of Hinduism states that the world as we know it is just an illusion –...
  • Book Jacket: Complicit
    by Stephanie Kuehn
    When seventeen year-old Jamie Henry receives word that his older sister Cate, is being released from...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

Tomlinson Hill
by Chris Tomlinson

Published Jul. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  153The City:
    Dean Koontz

All Discussions

Who Said...

Happiness belongs to the self sufficient.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

O O T F P, Into T F

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.