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on January 10, 2011
In a way, the title character Alice de Janzés is only a pretext for telling a story about British colonization of Kenya. Against lyrical descriptions of landscape, the political scheme of the "Lunatic Line" (the railroad linking Mombasa on the coast to the highlands of Kenya) tells a story about Britain's determination to have a strong foothold in eastern Africa.

What I liked about this book:

* lengthy, evocative descriptions of Kenya, from its coastal regions to its highlands and valleys;
* its full exploration of transportation and crops that assisted Britain's colonization;
* themes of what it means to be an American expatriate. In places like Paris, my own experience is that it hasn't changed much;
* the thorough inquiry into the title character's childhood and youth.

But what I didn't like was

* the "we can assume" tone (sometimes verbatim) that is used to interpret the thoughts and behaviors of some of the principals;
* a sense that the writer doesn't really like his subject (to which a reasonable retort might be that she simply isn't a sympathetic character);
* the strong whiff of psychological autopsy, a notion I reject outright;
* the title: arguably the title character is no more scandalous than any of the other leading players in this story.

This isn't a book for kids, imho. There are lengthy passages that deal with debauchery on a level that is frankly cringe-making. But for those with an interest in how some of the colonists lived in Kenya from early to mid-twentieth century, there is plenty to digest and mull over.

I'll be seeking out literature about the Mombasa railway and about the history of safaris in east Africa. So, for all my reservations, it's hard to complain much about a book that I know has sent me off on a treasure hunt for more knowledge about a fascinating place and time.
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on July 21, 2010
In 1899 Alice Silverthorne was born in Buffalo. Her father was a self made lumber baron and her mother a Chicago socialite. In 1913 the family imploded as law suits are filed to include custody of Alice. In 1920 Alice and her guardian Aunt Tattie go to Paris where she meets Count Frederic de Jantze. They marry and she gives birth to her first child in 1922. The family spends much of their time in Kenya. In 1927 Alice fails to kill herself and her lover Lord Raymund de Trafford when he dumped her. Five years later he becomes her second spouse. Meanwhile from almost her arrival in Kenya she has an affair for years with Joss Hay (Lord Erroll). In 1941 Joss is shot to death; soon after Alice commits suicide.

The cold case murder was international news in 1941 and made into a book by James Fox and movie White Mischief. Using family documents and photos as Paul Spicer's mom was a friend of Alice; the author makes a strong argument that the apparently passionate delusional Alice killed Joss and then herself. Historical fans and biographical readers will fully enjoy "The Scandalous Life of Alice de Jantze and the Mysterious Death of Lord Erroll" as Mr. Spicer provides a deep nonfiction account in which he defends his assertion that Alice killed Erroll in her quest to be loved.

Harriet Klausner
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on September 26, 2013
This is the story of Alice de Janze who grew up with riches, had 2 husbands and led a sybaritic and useless life mostly in Kenya during the time of the "Happy Valley" set. The book flows beautifully which makes it a very interesting read. I had just recently finished reading "White Mischief" by James Fox which prompted me to read this book immediately so that I could get a better sense of what she was like. The author of "The Temptress" certainly appears to have done quite a bit of research and that shows throughout. One gets a real sense of the meaningless lives led by the wealthy British living in Kenya at that time -- far removed from the social mores and restrictions in Europe, they created their own "rules" of behavior which leaned heavily on a decadent and morally loose lifestyle. This book beautifully conveys how Kenya was during that time -- unspoiled, undeveloped, and inexpensive (I am aware, of course, that the indigenous population didn't have it so good once these settlers arrived but that is another story in itself).

On the down-side, I have to agree with other reviewers in that, Alice's life was not "scandalous", nor was she conveyed as any type of "temptress". The title of the book is misleading. Yes, she was involved in one scandal during her lifetime (of her own making) but the rest of her life was lived the same as any other rich, debauched, attractive socialite during that time. The women (and men) who comprised Happy Valley were all like that. Nothing new.

Also, the author took liberties in diagnosing Alice as bi-polar without any backup or evidence that she had even seen a doctor(s) regarding her supposed depression(s).

The author also had a tendency to state what she was feeling at certain times again without any evidence. In my opinion, authors, when writing biographies, should never attempt to state what their subject is feeling unless they have proof.

Lastly, the author's grandmother, Margaret Spicer, was one of the first friends that Alice made when she arrived in Kenya. Because of this, it is my opinion, that the author walked very gingerly in his writing perhaps not to cause distress to his grandmother or her memory. He always made "excuses" for Alice because of her mental state. For goodness sake, the woman LEFT her 2 children forever in the hands of her first husband's family so that she could trample off to Kenya so that SHE could be happy; she almost killed her 2nd husband; and she never stopped having an affair with Joss Erroll who was married to one of her best friends.

I walked away from this book having no sympathy for the subject and, in fact, not really liking her or those around her. I attribute that to the times she lived in, the social mores of those times, and that large amounts of money and no useful purpose in life do fry people's brains.
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on May 10, 2012
An excellent book that actually solved a mystery with overwhelming evidence that was meticulously researched. I enjoyed the fact that the author had a military background and obviously understood the social atmosphere that existed in happy valley at the time of the tragic murder. It was a revealing insight into a very grand period of history with luminaries of the time described with interesting personal details that were obtained through research and interviews with the descendants. The story was really entertaining, but the background descriptions of the period made this a great book. I have passed it on for others to read and I hope they find as much enjoyment as I did.
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on February 3, 2011
I first became aware of the subject matter concerning this book when I saw the 1987 film "White Mischief" which had to deal the decandent society known as the
"Happy Valley Set."

When I read Piers Brandon's chapter about the Happy Valley Set, I purchased this book. It is a purported biography of American heiress Alice de Janze, that claims that it solves the 1941 murder of Lord Eroll.

The "thesis" of this book is that de Janze, mentally unstable, aging and having lost her popularity murdered Eroll in a fit of insane rage then killed herself
about a month or so later.

What it really is, is a defense of the prime suspect in the murder as well as Eroll's own wife. The book portray's "The Happy Valley Set" as a bunch of lefties straight out of the 1960's American Counter Culture.

While never mentioning Brandon's assertions about pro Mussolini & pro Hitler leanings as well as racism and anti semitism.

The author claims to have in his poession de Janze's own confession amongst her papers, yet he never produces this confession in a appendix.

This book is really a form of spin-doctoring designed "to prove" that a realtive of his was not the killer, indeed you are better off you purchase Brandon's book about the British Empire, and Osborne's book "The Bolter" than this piece of,
crap.The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997 (Vintage)THE BOLTER - Idina Sackville - the woman who scandalised 1920s society and became White Mischief's infamous seductress
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on October 20, 2014
This enthralling story is magnificently researched and chronicled by British author Paul Spicer, who interviewed people involved in the case, and had access to rare manuscripts, books, diaries, personal letters, and news articles. Spicer's mother was a close friend of Countess Alice de Janze (1899-1942). A beautiful captivating French Countess by marriage, de Janze lived life so large, scandalous, she got away once with the (France) 1927 attempted murder/(crime passionnell), of her second husband, Raymund de Trafford. Also by Spicer's theory: possibly the January 24th 1941 premeditated murder of Josslyn Hay, the Earl of Erroll. The shocking account of the crime and subsequent court trial, took place in Kenya, and received world wide press coverage. This crime remains officially unsolved.

Wealthy elite/aristocrats began settling in the British colonial Wanjohi or "Happy" Valley, Kenya in the 1920's. The rich beauty of the land, good spirits related to its high elevation, low cost of living, availability of servants, and freedom from restrictions of societal morals and expectations, made this an attractive highly desirable location. Parties usually lasted until dawn, drinks/cocktails flowed freely, decadent sexual intrigue with orgies, affairs, and wife-swapping were open and the socially accepted norm.

Alice and her highly devoted husband Count Frederic de Janze arrived in the Wanjohi Valley in 1925. Alice loved the area immensely and bought farmland as soon as the deeds could be transferred. The de Janze daughters remained in Paris with relatives, only visited on occasion by their parents. This was customary practice of many wealthy families, their children were sent to boarding schools while parents resided elsewhere.
When Alice began an affair with the handsome womanizer Josslyn Hay/Lord Erroll (1901-1941) this was fully accepted by their respective spouses. Alice also maintained a long friendship with Erroll's first wife, and likely remained one of his many lovers, on occasion, for over two decades.
Eight months following Erroll's murder, with the glamour, excitement, the love and devotion of husbands/lovers in the past, her daughters living stateside, Alice's desirability and beauty fading, her depression and mental illness more pronounced; at her home in Kenya, Alice ended her life her by suicide, she was 42.

Although Sir Henry John Delves Broughton "Jock" (1883-1942), was charged and later acquitted of the Erroll murder, the author presents compelling evidence of his true innocence, and the unmistakable guilt of true killer. There are pages of great photos in the print copy of this book, none in the e-book version.
This crime was covered by many other authors: more notably the book: "White Mischief" - James Fox - (1982), and made into a movie of the same title in 1987.
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on November 25, 2013
This is the true story of a young american woman who goes to Kenya with her French husband during the 1920s and becomes involved with a group of English people who went to Kenya as settlers. She then becomes involved with another man and when he tries to end the relationship, she attempts to kill him and herself. Both survive but her life takes on a very tragic ending. It is interesting reading and would highly recommend it; also I would recommend reading The Bolter which is the story of another woman settler who befriends Alice while living in Kenya.
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on May 25, 2013
Though I must say the author is clearly not a great or professional writer, one must admire his precision and determination in collecting all the details and material for this biography. He also is clearly captured by Alice De Janzé's legend, and manages to convery this feeling to us readers.
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on December 14, 2014
Interesting, but I'm a big fan of colonial Africia of anything I can find to read about it.....have most of the other Happy Valley books and it follows suit with them.
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on December 29, 2010
Having not read much on this time and place in Afica, I am probably not the best equipped to review this. But I will say this book was very enjoyable as well as a fun and smooth to read. Alice is a very emotionally distressed (maybe bi polar or manice depressive) woman that was born into privilege and finds she is most at home in South Africa-Kenya. It talks about all of the fun the rich and elite were having at the turn of the century in that part of the world. There is also a murder.
This book has suspense, intrigue and some great characters.
I would highly recommend it to anyone that is interested in learning about this time in Africal
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