I’ll admit that I was predisposed to like this novel; after all, it takes place in Kenya. Still, Annamaria Alfieri’s characters and plot drew me in quickly and kept me reading long after the initial interest in East Africa that made me pick it up in the first place.
Clearly well researched, Strange Gods opens a window to three different worlds that live in uneasy proximity. The British colonials insist on tea in fine china and formal dress for dinner, despite the equatorial climate; their sharp hierarchies slice even white society into good, better and best.
Even more interesting to me, Alfieri gives us a look into the lives of both Maasai and Kikuyu people, who didn’t always get along well to start with, but who are then forced into an even more challenging association under the colonial invaders’ rules.
Alfieri presents some memorable characters. Vera McIntosh is a plucky young Scottish woman, the daugher of missionaries, who finds colonial “proprieties” too restrictive and tends to ignore them—certainly more than her mother can bear. She has a crush on Justin Tolliver, an idealistic assistant superintendent of police. A man of noble birth, he has demeaned himself by taking this position. (If it weren’t for his talents at cricket, he’d be a virtual pariah.) This just makes things more complicated when he’s trying to convince his superior, District Commissioner Cranford, that a recent murder isn’t what Cranford wants it to be. Justin’s enigmatic Kikuyu constable, Kwai Libazo, helps him find his way through entirely different cultural minefields, among the local communities.
When Vera’s uncle is found with a Maasai spear in his back, D.C. Cranford insists on settling for “the obvious” conclusion: that a Kikuyu medicine man is guilty. Justin disagrees and can’t let it drop, which plunges him even deeper into conflict with his superiors and white colonial neighbors. Of course, Vera’s and Justin’s paths cross, and romance smolders.
If you’re interested in this time period, if you’re an armchair traveler or if you just enjoy a great mystery, get to your local bookstore and pick up this gem.
…and Annamaria Alfieri has also written mysteries set in South America—so there’s much more to enjoy.