A priceless plant, a rare African cycad thought to be extinct and prized by collectors, has been discovered, then stolen.
Joanne Flack, widowed and broke, is the prime suspect for the crime. While supposedly hiding out in London she single-handedly foils a terrorist plot, killing a lone-wolf gunman.
Former mercenary turned CIA contractor, Sonja Kurtz, uncovers a link between the missing plant and the terrorist who tried to kill Joanne. The US Government thinks that if it can find the missing cycad it can foil an attack to rival 9-11.
Hot on Joanne’s trail is retired US Fish and Wildlife Department special agent Rod Cavanagh who knows his plants and knows his target – he’s her former lover.
Joanne is a member of the Pretoria Cycad and Firearms Appreciation Society. She, Sonja and Rod enlist the help of this group of ageing gardeners and gun nuts to find a plant worth a fortune and the traitor in their midst who is willing to kill for it.
The idea for Last Survivor came to me while I was wandering around a friend’s garden, somewhere in southern Africa.
Her suburban yard was jam-packed with weird spikey plants, which she informed me were cycads. While they might look a bit like aloes or palms, cycads are most closely related, so I learned, to conifers – like pine trees they also have cones, sometimes garishly coloured.
These slightly bizarre plants date back to the time of the dinosaurs. My friend told me she had relocated all of these plants when she had to hastily leave the last place she was living
“Why?” I asked.
“Because they’re worth a fortune,” she answered matter-of-factly.
And so I learned, while wandering and listening, of the thriving, lucrative underground market in illegal cycads. There is a sub culture around the world of fanatical collectors and some unscrupulous plant fanciers will pay a fortune for rare plants.
The rarer the plant, the more it’s worth – certain members of the Encephalartos family of cycads found in South Africa are the most endangered living organisms in the world today! Middlemen pay poachers to scour the bushveld for the last remaining specimens and rip them out of their natural environment.
Here’s me with a cross between an Encephalartos woodii and an Encephalartos natalensis… as you no doubt were aware
As if that wasn’t enough to get my creative sap flowing, my friend regaled me with a tale of a two-year undercover operation mounted by the FBI (it turned out to the US Fish and Wildlife Department) several years ago which brought down an international cycad smuggling ring and ended with the arrests of people from South Africa, Australia and the US.
And so the idea germinated (pun intended). Gardeners with guns...
Who better to track down the rarest cycad of them all – stolen to finance a terrorist plot – than my now middle-aged mercenary, Sonja Kurtz, and a bunch of heavily armed grandmas and grandpas from the Pretoria Cycad and Firearms Appreciation Society.
Lace up your sensible shoes and lock and load!