The Gem Merchants
Piermont Gem Publications (2009)
Reviewed by Ron Standerfer for Reader Views (11/09)
The back cover of the book says it all: “Mined, Stolen, Bought, Sold, Coveted, and Killed For!” This describes in a nutshell the life gem trader Ray Ferguson lived for many years before writing “The Gem Merchants,” a fascinating story about a young man engaged in the perilous occupation of emerald trading in Africa.
Mark Branson understands all too well the dangers he faces each time he travels from the sedate and gentlemanly streets of HattonGarden, London’s center for precious stone trading, to the deep bush country of Africa in search of emeralds. Emerald trading is strictly illegal in Africa and if caught, he can expect to be imprisoned with no recourse to any embassy or in worse case, to lose his life. Meanwhile, he plies his trade armed only with a lucky gem given to him by an African mine owner, a generous supply of money to be converted to local currency supplied by his sponsor, plus his quick and inventive mind.
During Branson’s journeys in search for gems he encounters a variety of disparate and often hostile characters including hard-drinking Irish missionaries, suspicious and uncooperative Afrikaners, African politicians on the take, a smooth-talking, double-dealing Indian trader, and worst of all, the trigger-happy Zambian Police and Army. His greatest challenge is to learn quickly who to trust, who to bribe and who to avoid. It is a challenge fraught with dangers.
As it turns out, Branson’s most reliable ally while in Africa is the Irish priest who runs a missionary compound near his base of operation. Father O’Hara provides Mark with a ready source of black market local currency for his gem trading because he believes, “The work of God has to be financed and sometimes it has to be done by devious means.” He also offers the compound as a place of refuge when Mark is being pursued or harassed by his enemies. During one of his stays in the compound Mark meets a beautiful young woman named Marian who works there. She quickly falls in love with him and shares his bed whenever she can.
But while the compound provides a source of refuge and comfort, his stays there almost result in his undoing. When Rose, another comely resident, arrives at his door late at night filled with hashish-fueled lust he found it too difficult to refuse. The second night, however, he would not let her enter his room. This was a mistake. It seems that Rose’s brother was a well-placed official with the secret police. Afterwards she reported his gem trading activities to her brother. It was a classic case of the woman scorned and what happens next almost cost him his life.
“The Gem Merchants” by Ray Ferguson is a fine story filled with action, suspense, mystery and suspense; all wrapped in a package of authenticity that can only come from an author who knows what he is talking about. It’s a great read!