In 1911 British East Africa, in a tiny settlement outside Nairobi, Scottish missionaries, doctors, and plantation owners tread a fine dividing line of “rules for the British and rules for the Africans.” Although born in Africa, 20-year-old and pretty Vera McIntosh, the daughter of missionaries, doesn’t feel she belongs to either group. She yearns to accompany her brother on a safari and pines for the handsome British police officer she’d danced with, Captain Justin Tolliver, an earl’s second son.
They meet again following the grisly murder of Vera’s uncle, Doctor Pennyman, who is discovered in a field with a native spear pierced through his back. Justin’s superior coerces him to pin the murder on a Kikuyu tribe’s medicine man. The shaman hated Pennyman because the natives preferred the Scotsman’s medicines over indigenous potions. Since the spear is of Massai tribal design, Justin investigates others who had cause to loathe Pennyman for his rakish ways. The list of suspects grows daily.
This fourth offering from acclaimed historical novelist Annamaria Alfieri is a departure from her earlier South American settings. Although the title (words from the First Commandment) might imply a religious theme, and while there is some discourse of native African and Christian beliefs, this is a murder mystery with a romantic touch in an exotic land. The pages bring that era’s African towns and jungles to life, which we would traverse today in the comfort of a jeep. Readers might despair at the unjust system that takes so long to trace the murder weapon—the spear—via the village blacksmith to its owner, for the delay results in tragic consequences. As Alfieri confided in a recent essay for Jungle Red Writers, “Real people creep into my stories,” and while big-game hunter Denys Finch-Hatton does, we await the sequel, and the appearance of Out of Africa writer Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen).