- Series: Vera and Tolliver (Book 2)
- Paperback: 249 pages
- Publisher: Felony & Mayhem (October 10, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9781631941009
- ISBN-13: 978-1631941009
- ASIN: 1631941003
- Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.5 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,471,887 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Idol of Mombasa: Vera & Tolliver #2 (Vera and Tolliver) Paperback – October 10, 2016
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About the Author
Annamaria Alfieri, actually named Patricia King, began writing stories at the age of nine and, as she puts it, never stopped. After writing a number of well received non-fiction books that landed her an appearance on the “Oprah Winfrey Show,” she took a trip to Bolivia that inspired her to write her first mystery novel (City of Silver, published by Felony & Mayhem in 2011). With that shift into fiction, King took on her pseudonym – a combination of her mother’s and her grandmother’s names – to avoid confusion with other novelists also named Patricia King. She lives in New York City.
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In Mombasa, they find themselves in a deliciously rendered stewpot of mixed racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds and loyalties. Though the local government is British, Mombasa—and that portion of its population that is Arab—remains under the significant influence of the Sultan of Zanzibar. The British have introduced into the police service their loyal Indian subjects, and Africans of many tribes fill the population.
The Tollivers are a mix too. Justin is the second son of a Yorkshire earl. He had a conventional if aristocratic upbringing, but possesses no fortune. Vera is more of a free spirit. She’s the daughter of a Scottish missionary, born and raised in the Protectorate’s pastoral up-country region.
The conflicts inherent between and among such wildly diverse people are tailor-made for both social and domestic drama.
The novel’s prologue describes a daring nighttime slave and ivory smuggling operation, and the book’s central dilemma relates to the illegal, but quietly tolerated practice of holding and selling slaves. Vera is an absolutist, unable to countenance slavery in any form, whereas Justin may be as morally opposed, but constrained by unwritten policy and his superiors.
When a runaway slave is murdered, followed soon after by the death of a notorious Arab slave-trafficker, Justin and Vera both set out to find the perpetrator—he in his official capacity and she with secret, possibly risky, and sometimes unaccountably naïve actions of her own. Conflict between the couple is thereby assured, as Justin alternately admires and is frustrated by Vera’s passionate, impulsive personality.
Alfieri’s descriptions of exotic Mombasa and its environs a hundred years ago vividly evoke the setting. Her writing is clear and interesting, yet somehow doesn’t exude a strong sense of menace, despite the cast of desperate characters and perilous environment. She keeps multiple
plot balls up in the air, through a set of intriguing and well-drawn secondary characters. The net result is that this atmospheric novel transports you back in time and across continents to set you down in the middle of Mombasa, 1912.
Much of the confusion in this new mystery in Alfieri’s East Africa series concerns the slave trade. The British have outlawed it, but seem to wink at its actual practice. That infuriates the newlywed Vera Tolliver, Scottish missionary’s daughter, bride of English police officer, Justin Tolliver. Second son of a British earl, left penniless by primogeniture, the legally-enforced practice of leaving the entire estate to the firstborn. Anyway, it is now Tolliver’s job to enforce the law, as soon as he can figure out what it is. The murder of a runaway slave emphasizes the complications, especially because a longtime missionary friend of Vera’s missionary family is the likeliest suspect. Meanwhile both the British government and the Sultanate wink at it all, as though they had nothing to do with the problem.
Annamaria Alfieri, actually named Patricia King, began writing stories at the age of nine and, as she puts it, never stopped. After turning to fiction, King took on her pseudonym – a combination of her mother’s and her grandmother’s names – to avoid confusion with other novelists also named Patricia King. She lives in New York City. The writer gives us the hot humid smelly international port city of Mombasa nicely on the page, does well explaining the various British, Europeans, Arabs, African tribes, East Indians involved in the city’s life. She also casts an eye to the cooler upland mountains, near Nairobi, where Vera’s parents are located; in doing so manages to mention some of Kenya’s more famous residents of the time, such as the coffee-growing/hunting Danish Baron Bror von Blixen. And Denys Finch Hatton. Aristocratic big-game hunter, lover of Baroness Karen Blixen, Danish noblewoman who wrote about the men in her novel OUT OF AFRICA. Made into that wonderful movie of the same name, by Sydney Pollack, starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, that introduced many, if not most of us, to Nairobi, Kenya, Africa. However, Alfieri’s mystery plot here is somewhat mild and thin, though it does focus on some issues still with us today, such as slavery and human sex trafficking. I liked it, but I respectfully suggest to the author that her next efforts give us something a little more red-blooded, to match their setting. Something we can get our teeth into.