Death in Kenya

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.

M.M. Kaye is probably best known for her sweeping historical novels like The Far Pavillions, set in India where she was born, but she also traveled with her husband while he was in the British Army and used the exotic locations as settings for six mysteries. These were later all retitled to form the “Death in…” series. I really enjoyed Death in Berlin several years ago, especially for the post-WWII setting, and decided it was high time to follow up with another. Death in Kenya once again draws heavily on her experiences, taking place right after “The Emergency” of the 1950s Mau Mau revolts sweeping the country.

Young Victoria Caryll is not sure why her Aunt Em summons her back to the DeBrett estate in the beautiful Rift Valley, especially since Em’s grandson Eden married Alice after breaking off his engagement to Victoria. But strange accidents have been happening around a household already tense from the uprisings. And the culprit is willing to stop at nothing less than murder. Soon they are plunged into fear, and Victoria must help decipher the heart of a killer in addition to her own.

Kaye’s personal experience shines through in the descriptions–the gazelles lounging in the desert shade, the density of the papyrus swamps, the volcanic echoes of Crater Lake. It is a vast untamed country, very similar to the American West, in that a small group of settlers are determined the face the wilderness with ferocity and passion, willing to kill or die to protect what is theirs in the uprisings and beyond. I did have to cringe slightly at the colonial overtones, though, even if all the African employees are paid for their labor; I’ve been discussing Heart of Darkness with my brother as he had to read it for school. To be fair, Kaye points out in the narrative that the rebelling Mau Mau are not the tribes who inhabited this particular spot and sold it to the English.

For me, the tension in this book just crackled. The characters have spent years dealing with the Emergency, and just as everything seems to be over a new force is intent at creating unease. You can feel that someone or something is going to snap very soon; the wilderness of the landscape soon takes on a new shadow of menace. In addition, the neighbors in this small group know each other intimately–which means that they all have both motive and opportunity. At one point or another in the narrative I could make a case for almost any of them to be the culprit, and still the road to the solution is a twisting one. My only complaint is that I liked the murder victim; I much prefer an anonymous corpse or at least an annoying character.

This book is for the Distance category of the 9 for 09 Challenge. According to this site Rift Valley is about 7500 miles away from me!

Published in: on September 8, 2009 at 10:25 pm  Comments (5)  
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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I read all these books maybe ten years back and loved them–I literally gobbled them all up. Admittedly they are not terribly PC these days, but I figure she was born in India and grew up there, so I tried to keep them in context. I would love to reread them–I wonder what I’d make of them now. Anyway, I was happy to see someone else pick one up and enjoy it, as it brought back good reading memories!

  2. Danielle-I love seeing other people read books I enjoyed. I really need to track down the rest of this series!

  3. I am glad that you have fun traveling without spending too much money.

    Thanks for being part of 9 for ’09 challenge.

  4. […] people. He writes a bit about the effects of colonialism, which made me recall the point of view in Death in Kenya. He points out other injustices, abroad and especially in America: subtle differences in the way […]

  5. […] Death in Kenya, by M.M. […]

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