Thursday, February 20, 2020
Death in Kenya
"You know," he said, "this is painfully like one of those detective novels in which just as the plot is getting littered with clues and corpses, the heroine holds up the action for three pages with a sentimental scene." (p. 350)
Death in Kenya (original title: Later Thank You Think; 1958) by M. M. Kaye takes us to the Rift Valley in a period during the latter part of the Mau Mau uprising (referred to as The Emergency by white settlers). Emily DeBrett and her grandson Eden, along with his wife Alice, have lived through an attack on Flamingo, their sprawling home in the Valley only to have a poltergeist invade their home. Emily's family treasures are broken and then her favorite dog is killed. The feeling that tension is mounting and that all of this malicious mischief is leading to something more dangerous is revealed to us through the eyes of Alice DeBrett. An English girl who has never felt at home in Kenya, Alice becomes more uncomfortable as the incidents increase in severity. Even Emily, who is tough as nails and helped repel the Mau Mau attack on her home, is feeling the strain and sends for her niece Victoria Caryll to come and help her with secretarial duties that she doesn't feel up to anymore.
Victoria was once unofficially engaged to Eden DeBrett and worries that she's made a mistake in agreeing to come. She's sure of it when she arrives and is told first thing that Eden's wife has been murdered with a Mau Mau weapon. She felt safe in coming to Kenya when Eden was married and unattainable--now she's afraid that old feelings will crop up and make an unpleasant situation unbearable in more ways than one. The police seem to be wavering between thinking this may be the start of a new revolt and believing that the murderer is someone within the DeBrett's small social circle. There are certain clues that don't add up (and which I can't reveal because spoilers) and until they can get the math right, the killer is going to get away with it. More deaths follow and even Victoria finds herself in danger....
Kaye's novels are always terrific visions of another place and time. She sets her mysteries in locations where she and her husband have lived and the vivid descriptions ring completely true. Her mystery plots are solid and she managed to fool me completely in this one. Considering that the vital plot point has been (in some variation) important in at least three vintage mysteries I've read in the last three months, you'd think I would have picked up on it. But the way it was presented (and even repeated...yes, I was that dull-witted) this time made it seem impossible. Just remember...appearances can be (and often are) deceiving. ★★★ and 1/2.
Previously read Death in Zanzibar (click link for review)
Deaths = 6 (two shot; two stabbed;one killed with axe; one poisoned)
Vintage Mystery Gold 2011 (#2 towards Murderous Mood)
Calendar of Crime: August (Author DOB)
First Line: A flock of pelicans, their white wings dyed apricot by the setting sun, sailed low over the acacia trees of the garden with a sound like tearing silk, and the sudden swish of their passing sent Alice's heart into her throat and dried her mouth with panic.
ED: My dear Drew, all women are excellent actresses when circumstances force them to it; and the sooner men realize that, the better! (Emily DeBrett; p. 369)
DS: People who are desperately and deeply in love are probably capable of anything. There are endless examples in history and the newspapers to prove that love can be a debasing passion as well as the most ennobling one; and a stronger and more relentless force than either ambition or hate, because those can be cold-blooded things, but love is always a hot-blooded one. Men and women have died for it--or for loss of it. They have committed crimes for it and given up thrones for it, started wars, deserted their families, betrayed their countries, stolen, lied and murdered for it. And they will probably go on doing so until the end of time! (Drew Stratton; p. 373)
Last Line: It had ceased to be a Graven Image demanding sacrifices, for its High Priestess was dead and it was only a pleasant, rambling house whose windows looked out across green gardens to the wide beauty of Lake Naivasha and all the glory of the Rift Valley.