Death in Kenya, by MM Kaye

>> Thursday, January 09, 2003

I started another one of MM Kaye's "Death Abroad" books. This one's Death in Kenya.

Plot summary:
"When Victoria Caryll is offered a position at "Flamingo," her aunt's family estate in Kenya's Rift Valley, she accepts--knowing full well that the move will give her a chance to see Eden DeBrett once again, the man she was previously engaged to. But she doesn't realize that coming to her aunt's home will introduce her to an unstable region still recovering from the bloody Mau Mau revolt, and to a household thrown into grief by a recent murder. Distinguished by its mystery, romance, and exotic setting, Death in Kenya is as graceful as it is chilling."
Before I'd read more than a few pages, I put the book down and sat down at my computer to do some research about the Mau Mau. As the author writes in the fore-word, it's not a very well remembered episode in History. Even nerdy, know-it-all, Trivial Pursuit-obsessed little me knew little about it.

What I read was illuminating, but left me with feelings of disgust for both sides.I might have read a few too many Mau Mau apologist sources (like this one), but I had some doubts I could like the white settler protagonists of this book. Let's see how it goes. So far, I'm ok, and I'm glad I did my research. I understood what being "panga'd" was (the panga is a type of big knife; you can deduce the rest), and what Drew having been part of a "pseudo gang" implied (see here, about a third from the end). Even if I don't like this one, I will have learnt a lot by the end.

Posted later...

Death in Kenya was one of those books which get you thinking. However, unlike books like Body Electric, this one didn't cause all that contemplation with what the book was about, but with its setting.

The detective story itself was great, very well-crafted and fascinating. It was a bit weird that the supposed protagonist, Victoria, was usually so far from the centre of the story, but this didn't detract from my enjoyment at all.

The best thing here was the very well done setting and atmosphere. With MM Kaye, I always feel as if I'm there, walking through the wild garden in the Rift Valley, or feeling the sun on my head on the crater lake. I loved this element.

Related to this were the political events taking place at that time in Kenya. As I posted earlier, I was kind of predisposed to dislike the white settlers who are the protagonists in this story. In a sense, I did. The whole attitude towards Africans was extremely condescending ("you can't expect these Africans to think such and such a thing as a European would") and derisive, and this I didn't like at all. But some of the comments Drew makes at one point, defending his right to fight for his land to Victoria, did make some sense. I'll have to keep thinking about this.

My grade for this one is A-, because I loved the whodunnit and the setting, and because the underlying issues were fascinating, even if I sometimes disliked the characters' attitudes.

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