Written by one of the most gifted storytellers of our time, Death in Kenya is a wonderfully evocative mystery...
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-it is the beloved novel of one of our finest and most accomplished writers.
About the Author
M.M. Kaye was born in India and spent much of her childhood and adult life there. She became world famous with the publication of her monumental bestseller, The Far Pavilions. She is also the author of the bestselling Trade Wind and Shadow of the Moon.
Read an Excerpt
Death in Kenya
By M. M. Kaye
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1983 M. M. Kaye
All rights reserved.
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. The shadows of the stately birds flicked across her and were gone, and she leaned weakly against the gate in the plumbago hedge and fought for control.
It was absurd and childish to allow herself to become so hag-ridden by fear that the mere passing of a flight of birds could set her flinching and cowering. But she could not help herself. She had fought fear for too long, and now at last she had reached the limits of endurance. She would have to leave Kenya: she and Eden. Surely he would see that she could not stand any more. For now, in addition to her fear of the country there was her terror of the house.
Alice had always been afraid of Kenya. It seemed to her a savage and uncivilized land full of brooding menace, in which only Em's luxurious house had provided a narrow oasis of safety and comfort. But now there was no longer any safety anywhere, for strange things had been happening in the house of late. Inexplicable, malicious, frightening things ...
It was the cat, declared Zacharia, the old grey-headed Kikuyu who had served Em for almost forty years, explaining away the first appearance of the invisible vandal who had taken to haunting the house. Who else could have thrown down the K'ang Hsi vase from the top of the cabinet where it had stood for so many years? There had been no wind. As for the bottle of red ink that had rolled, unstoppered, across the carpet upon which the Memsahib set such store, there had been a bird in the room – see, here was a feather! Pusser must have pursued it, and in doing so knocked over both ink bottle and vase.
But Em had not believed it. She had stormed and raged and questioned the African servants, but to no avail. And later, when other things were broken or defaced, Zacharia had made no further mention of Pusser. He and the other house servants had gone about their duties with scared faces and starting, frightened eyes, and Em, too, had said nothing more. She had only become quieter – and looked grim and grey and very old.
Lady Emily DeBrett – Em DeBrett of Flamingo – had come to Kenya as a bride in the Colony's early days, and she and her husband, Gerald, had been among the first white settlers in the Rift Valley.
Gerald had never looked upon Kenya as anything more than a Tom Tiddlers Ground. But the seventeen-year-old Emily had taken one look at the great golden valley with its cold craters and savage lava falls, its lily-strewn lakes and its vast herds of game, and had fallen in love with it as some women fall in love with a man.
Gerald had staked out a claim on the shores of Lake Naivasha: acres and acres of virgin land on which he intended to raise sheep and cattle, and grow sisal and maize and lucerne. And on a rising slope of ground, overlooking the lake, he had built a crude mud and wattle hut that had in time given place to a small stone-built house; square, ugly and unpretentious. Em had named the farm 'Flamingo' because a flight of those fantastic rose-coloured birds had flown across it on that first evening; and Flamingo it had remained.
Kendall, Em's son, had been born in the mud and wattle house and christened in the small stone building that had replaced it. There had been no other children, for when Kendall was three years old his father had been killed by a fall from his horse. But Flamingo had already begun to justify all Gerald's hopes, and Em had refused to go home. 'This is my home,' she had said, 'and I will never leave it.'
The estate had prospered, and she had pulled down the ugly stone house that Gerald had built, and raised in its stead a huge, sprawling single-storeyed house to her own design. A thatch-roofed house with wide verandahs and spacious rooms panelled in undressed cedar wood, that defied all architectural rules and yet blended with the wild beauty of the Rift Valley as though it had always been a part of it; and Em loved it as she had never loved Gerald or her son Kendall.
She had been a remarkably pretty woman, and she was barely twenty when her husband died; but she did not marry again. Partly because her absorption in the affairs of her estate left her little time for other interests, and partly because hard and unremitting toil soon dispelled that pink-and-white prettiness. She wore, from choice, trousers and shirt and a man's double-terai hat, and as her abundant hair was too much trouble to keep in order, she cropped it short. At thirty she might have been forty-five or fifty, and from forty onwards, though she became increasingly bulky, she was merely an elderly and eccentric woman whose age it would have been impossible to guess.
Kendall was sent home to Eton, and from there to Oxford. And it was from Oxford, on his twenty-second birthday, that he sent a cable telling of his marriage to pretty Clarissa Brook.
Clarissa had proved to be a girl after Em's own heart, and as Mr Rycett, Em's manager, had retired that year, Kendall had stepped into his place, and he and Clarissa had moved into the manager's house; a pleasant stone-built bungalow in the grounds of Flamingo, barely six hundred yards from the main house, and hidden from it by a grove of acacias and a plumbago hedge. But Eden DeBrett, Em's first grandson, was born at Flamingo.
Em had insisted on that. 'He must be born in this house. It will be his one day.' And looking at the baby she had thought with pride: I have founded a dynasty. A Kenya dynasty! A hundred years from now – two hundred – there will be DeBretts living in this house and farming this land when Kenya is no longer a raw new Colony, but a great and prosperous country ...
She was as impatient for grandsons as though Flamingo had been a kingdom and the DeBretts a royal house whose succession must be assured.
But there were to be no more grandsons for Em. As there had been no more sons. Kendall and Clarissa had died in a car accident, and there was only Eden. Little Eden DeBrett who was such a beautiful child, and whom his grandmother spoiled and adored and loved only one degree less than she loved the land of her adoption.
After Kendall's death there had been another manager, Gus Abbott, who had lived in the bungalow beyond the plumbago hedge for over twenty years, and died in a Mau Mau raid on Flamingo in the first months of the Emergency. His place had been taken by a younger man, Mr Gilbraith Markham, and it was Mr Markham's wife Lisa whom Alice had come in search of on this quiet evening: poor, pretty, discontented Lisa, who loved cities and cinemas and gaiety, and who had been so bored by life at Flamingo – until the day when she had had the misfortune to fall in love with Eden DeBrett.
Alice pushed open the gate in the plumbago hedge and walked on down the dusty path that wound between clumps of bamboos and flowering shrubs, thinking of Lisa. Of Lisa and Eden ...
It isn't his fault, thought Eden's wife loyally. It's because he's too good-looking. And just because women throw themselves at his head, and lose their own and make fools of themselves over him, it doesn't mean the he — She stopped suddenly, with a grimace of distaste. But it was a sound, and not her thoughts that had checked her.
The path had come out on the edge of a wide lawn in front of a green and white bungalow flanked by towering acacia trees, and someone inside the bungalow was playing the piano. Gilly, of course.
Gilly Markham was not a conspicuous success as a farm manager, and many people in the Rift Valley had attributed his appointment to his musical rather than his managerial abilities. For it was an unexpected facet of Lady Emily DeBrett's character that she was intensely and passionately musical, and there was probably some truth in the rumour that she had permitted Gilly Markham's musical talent to influence her judgement when Gus Abbott's death necessitated the appointment of a new manager at Flamingo.
But it was not Gilly's technique that had checked Alice and produced that grimace of distaste. It was the music itself. The Rift Concerto. As if it wasn't enough to hear Em playing it day after day! And now Gilly too —!
It had been an Italian prisoner-of-war who had written the Rift Valley Concerto. Guido Toroni. He had been sent to work at Flamingo, and Em had discovered by chance that he had once been a concert pianist. He had composed the concerto on Em's Bechstein grand, and later, when the war was over, he had gone to America where he had made a name for himself. There he had also made a single long-playing record of the concerto especially for Em, to whom he had sent it as a thank-offering and a memento. Em had been inordinately pleased, and had allowed no one to handle it except herself; but just two weeks previously it had been found smashed into a dozen pieces.
It could not possibly have been an accident. It had been a deliberate and ugly piece of spite that had frightened Alice and infuriated Em. But that had not been the worst of it, for Em had taken to playing the concerto from memory: 'so that I shall not forget it'. She had played it again and again during the last two weeks, until the wild, haunting cadences had plucked at Alice's taut nerves and worn them ragged. And now Gilly too was playing it. Playing it as Em played it, with passion and fury. But with a skill and magic that Em's gnarled, spatulate fingers, for all their love, did not possess.
Alice pushed between the canna lilies and ran across the lawn and up the stone steps that led on to the verandah. The door into the drawing-room stood open, and entering without ceremony she leant across Gilly's shoulder and thrust his hands off the keyboard in an ugly crash of sound.
Gilly spun round on the piano stool and stared at her contorted face.
'God! you startled me! What's up? You look all to pieces.' He rose hurriedly. 'Nothing the matter, is there?'
'No. No, nothing.' Alice groped behind her and catching at the arm of a chair, sat down rather suddenly. Her breathing steadied, and a little colour crept back into her pale cheeks. 'I'm sorry, Gilly. My nerves are on edge. It was only that tune. Em's been playing it and playing it until I can't endure the sound of it.'
'She has, has she?' said Gilly, mixing a stiff whisky and soda and handing it to Alice.
He poured out a second and larger one for himself, omitting the soda, and gulped it down: 'Then I'm not surprised your nerves are in ribbons. She's a bloody bad pianist. She takes that third movement as though she were an elephant charging an express train.'
He sat down again at the piano as though to illustrate, and Alice said in a taut voice: 'Gilly, if you play that again I shall scream. I mean it!'
Gilly dropped his hands and regarded her with some concern. 'I say, you are in a bad way! Have another drink?'
'I haven't started on this one yet,' said Alice with an attempt at a laugh. 'Oh, it isn't that. It's – well that record being broken. You heard about that, didn't you?'
'You mean the poltergeist? Of course I did.'
'It isn't a poltergeist! Don't say things like that! It must be someone – a person. But Em swears by all her servants. She's had them for years and they're nearly all second-generation Flamingo servants. Or even third! She won't believe that it is one of them. But it's worrying her badly. I know it is.'
Gilly poured himself out another three fingers of whisky, and subsiding on to the sofa, sipped it moodily. He was a thin, untidy-looking man in the middle thirties with a pallid, discontented face and pale blue eyes that had a habit of sliding away from a direct look. His shock of fair hair was perpetually in need of cutting, and he wore a sweat-stained open-necked shirt, grubby khaki trousers and a sagging belt that supported a revolver in a well-worn holster. Altogether an incongruous figure in Lisa's over-decorated drawing-room. As incongruous as Alice DeBrett with her neat dark head, her neat dark expensive linen suit, her impeccable shoes and flawless pearls, and her pale, strained, Madonna face that was innocent of all but the barest trace of make-up.
'Won't do Em any harm to worry,' said Gilly, sipping whisky. 'Told her years ago she should throw out all her Kukes. Everyone's told her! But Em's always fancied she knew better than anyone else. "Treat 'em right and they'll be loyal." Bah! There's no such thing as a loyal Kuke. We've all learned that – the hard way!'
Alice said uncertainly: 'But she's fond of her Kikuyu servants, Gilly. And they did stay with her all through the Emergency, and now that it's over —'
'Who said it was over?' demanded Gilly. 'Over, my foot! What about this latest caper – the Kiama Kia Muingi? A rose by any other name, that's what! Secret ceremonies, extortion, intimidation – same old filthy familiar ingredients simmering away again and ready to boil over at the drop of a hat. And yet there are scores of little optimists running round in circles saying that it's all over! Don't let 'em fool you!'
He reached behind him, and groping for the bottle of whisky refilled his glass, slopping the liquid on to the rose-patterned chintz of the sofa in the process. 'Who's to say how many Mau Mau are still on the run in the forests, or Nairobi, or the Rift? Why, they haven't even caught "General Africa" yet – and they say it's over! Y'know –' Gilly's words were slurring together – 'y'know Hector Brandon? Course you do! Well, Hector's been doin' a lot of interrogation of M.M. old lags, and he says one of 'em told him that there are still a gang of hard-core terrorists hidin' out in the marula – the papyrus swamp. Bein' fed by the African labour of the farms along the lake. And Greg Gilbert says he believes General Africa is still employed by a settler. Why, it might be any of Em's Kukes! Who's to tell? Nice quiet house boy or cook or cattleherd by day – Gen'l Africa in a lion skin hat at night. Might even be one of Hector's. In fact, only too likely if you ask me!'
'Oh no, Gilly! Why everyone knows that the Mau Mau swore they'd get Hector because of his intelligence work. Yet they never did, and if General Africa had been one of his own men it would have been too easy.'
'Maybe,' said Gilly sceptically. 'But I'll tell you something that "everyone" doesn't know! And that is that once upon a time Drew Stratton's lot nearly got the "General" – he walked into one of their ambushes with five of his men, and though he managed to get away, he left something behind him: a hunting knife. It had been in a sort of holster at his belt, and by some infernal fluke a bullet chipped it off as clean as a whistle without harming him. But it was the next best thing to getting the man himself, because it had a set of his finger prints on it. The only clue to his identity the Security Forces had ever got their hands on. And what happened to them? Well, I'll tell you. Hector carefully cleaned 'em off! It's always been my belief that he recognized the knife, and that he wasn't taking any chances of one of his darling boys being accused. "Honour of the House", an' all that.'
'Gilly, no!' protested Alice. 'You shouldn't say things like that! It must have been a mistake – an accident.'
'That's what he said. Said he thought it belonged to Greg, and merely picked it up off Greg's desk to doodle with. Greg nearly hit the ceiling. It's no use, Alice. You just don't understand what some of these old Kenya hands are capable of; or how their own little patch of land can end by becoming the centre of the universe to them, just because they made it out of nothing by the sweat of their brow, and starved for it and gave up their youth for it, and sacrificed comfort and safety and civilization and a lot of other trivial little things for it. Brandonmead is Hector's pride. No – I'm wrong. Ken's his pride. Brandonmead's his life; and he's always sworn by all his African labour. "Loyal to the core" and all that sort of stuff. It would have damned near killed him if it had turned out that one of his precious Kukes was a star Mau Mau thug. I believe he'd have done almost anything to cover it up, and salved his conscience by thinking he could deal with it himself. They're great ones for taking the law into their own hands out here. Haven't you noticed that yet?'
Alice said uncomfortably: 'But Em says —'
Excerpted from Death in Kenya by M. M. Kaye. Copyright © 1983 M. M. Kaye. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Light and fluffy mystery/romance that passes an afternoon.