Movie star Katie Barstow and her new husband, David Hill, decide on a honeymoon in the Serengeti and invite seven family members and friends along. It is 1964. The Cold War is hot. Many newly independent African nations are in turmoil. What can go wrong?

Everything, but in Chris Bohjalian's skillful hands, that's all right.

"The Lioness" of the title is Barstow, who overcame a poor-little-rich-girl childhood to become a successful Hollywood actress beloved by fans and all who know her. It's typical of her generosity that she chose to share her happiness with those closest to her.

But only several days into their journey, Russian mercenaries take them hostage, killing all who resist. The group is divided in three and moved to different locations. Who are these mercenaries? Why did they target this safari? How did they even know Barstow would be there?

Fans of Bohjalian's many novels — "The Flight Attendant," "The Red Lotus," "The Hour of the Witch" among them — know how expertly he weaves his stories. Here he goes back and forth for each of the major players, revealing how past deeds impact the present.

He does so slowly, leaving tantalizing clues along the way. We come to care about the captives: cheer their bravery, disapprove of their cowardice but in both cases remain compelled to turn the page.

The Lioness

By: Chris Bohjalian.

Publisher: Doubleday, 336 pages, $28.