By Annamaria Alfieri – Set in British East Africa in the early 20th century, this evocative mystery describes the colonial way of life, with all its pleasures and strains, its hypocrisy and search for cultural understanding, and the land’s lurking dangers and astonishing beauty. The murder of a white physician by a tribesman’s spear must be solved by a young, inexperienced colonial police officer, who argues (perhaps once too often) for a thorough investigation, in order to demonstrate the fairness of British justice. He’s opposed by the area’s District Commissioner who wants to summarily try and execute the first suspect who comes to light, the local medicine man.
While the sexual mores might be more elastic in that time and place than back home in Britain, the romantic interplay between the police officer and the dead man’s niece cannot escape the push and pull of social inhibitions and desire. Throughout the book the two trade the role of protagonist, augmented by insights from an African tribal lieutenant struggling to bridge the cultural gap.
The book was written with an obvious love for the land and its peoples and the complexity of life there. Not for nothing did Alfieri include an epigram from Isak Dinensen: “Africa, amongst the continents, will teach it to you: that God and the Devil are one.”
Are you as fascinated by Africa’s history and secrets as Alfieri is? Check out this African reading list by Swapna Krishna.