M. Kaye: Death in Zanzibar,
Death in Kenya
In Zanzibar: St.
Martin's Minotaur (Paperback), ISBN 0-312-24561-0
M.M. Kaye's Death in Zanzibar, originally published in 1959, tastes just fine in 1999. Dany Ashton's actress mother invites her just-out-of-school daughter to visit her and her stepfather in far-off, exotic, politically independent Zanzibar. Elated by her sudden freedom from a chaperon auntie, Dany checks herself into the Airside Hotel in London. Dany plans to treat herself to a pleasant round of shopping, theater and good times before she joins her mother's and stepfather's other guests for the long flight to Zanzibar via Italy, Khartoum and Nairobi.
After running an errand for step-papa, young Dani takes herself off to the newest play gracing the London's stage. Surprisingly, given her night on the town, she awakens before breakfast tea the following morning and decides to slip out into the hall to collect her morning newspaper. Big mistake. Dani soon finds herself locked out of her room, shocked by the news that the object of her errand was murdered and rescued (after a fashion) by the very handsome, very drunk Lash Holden.
You gotta love a book in which the hero makes his entrance the morning after the night before, carrying a large, plush, white cat named Asbestos.
Dani and Lash make a delightful couple. Lash, in particular, proves outrageously creative in solving Dani's difficulties, whether they are a stolen passport, intruders or murder.
Murder in Zanzibar delivers a timeless mystery/romance of the Mary Stewart, My Brother Michael school. It stands the test of time because of the classic plot and because Zanzibar, by virtue of avoiding world news notoriety, retains its exotic, never-never flavor.
Death in Kenya takes place in Africa's Rift Valley not long after the bloody Mau Mau revolt. Victoria Caryll's Aunt Em invites the Rift-born but London-reared Victoria to the large family estate, Flamingo, not far from Victoria's birthplace. Initially Victoria resists her aunt's invitation, because Victoria was engaged to Em's son Eden before he chose to marry the fragile Alice. Victoria doesn't relish the prospect of interacting with the couple on an almost daily basis.
As if in answer to a prayer Victoria would never utter, Victoria arrives in Kenya the same day the family buries the brutally murdered Alice. Picked up at the airport by the mysterious, handsome Drew, Victoria finds herself torn between the sweet reality of the Kenya she remembers and the harsh actuality of its present.
Unlike Death in Zanzibar, Death in Kenya, originally published in 1958, doesn't translate comfortably into the 21st century. Both books share classic mystery plots featuring likeable heroines. But Kenya's hero plays mysterious and aggressive instead of likable and creative. Instead of treating the reader to a highly enjoyable tour of an exotic land and time, Kenya highlights the worst of Great Britain's imperial faults.
Britons in Kenya routinely refer to indigenous peoples as "my africans" or "my workers." Landowners are exclusively white and declare their willingness to die rather than lose their position and land. Perhaps readers should approach the book like a treatise on a bad time in recent history. You can always assume the character of an archaeologist who studies the notes of a grain merchant to learn about the common people, instead of the nobles depicted in the notes of a court scribe.
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