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The Temptress: The Scandalous Life of Alice de Janze and the Mysterious Death of Lord Erroll Hardcover – July 20, 2010

4.1 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Please note: the ebook edition does not include photos that originally appeared in the printed book.

The 1941 fatal shooting of British earl Joss Erroll in Kenya made headlines worldwide (and was the subject of the book and movie White Mischief). A cuckolded husband was acquitted, and now Kenyan-born former oil executive Spicer intriguingly fingers his late mother™s friend, Countess Alice de Janzé, Joss™s discarded mistress. Alice™s complicated and violent love life was possibly attributable to bipolar disorder and to abandonment by her father, a self-made American millionaire, when Alice was 13. Alice married a French count, Frédéric de Janzé, and to escape the stuffy confines of French society, the couple spent much of their time in Kenya. There Alice had two love affairs that, according to Spicer, goaded Alice to violence: she made a botched murder-suicide attempt in 1927 when English aristocrat Raymund de Trafford rejected her, yet they married in 1932 (Alice had already left her husband). Alice had also begun a two-decade-long liaison with Joss. Though Joss had many enemies, Spicer posits that Alice killed Joss, and months later, at age 42, committed suicide, hoping they would be reunited in the afterlife. The author™s depiction of the unstable heiress and her milieu of wealthy expatriates cavorting in the Kenyan highlands is engrossing. 8 pages of b&w photos.
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From Booklist

Kenya's notorious “Happy Valley” set flourished during the twenties and thirties, providing enough scandalous fodder to fuel numerous books and movies. The Kenyan-born Spicer takes a leaf from Frances Osborne's The Bolter: Idina Sackville—the Woman Who Scandalized 1920s Society and Became White Mischief's Infamous Seductress (2009) by chronicling the checkered life of Alice de Janzé, another fascinating, if twisted, resident of Happy Valley. Focusing on the unsolved murder of the wickedly handsome Joss Hay, Lord Erroll in 1941, he alleges that Alice, a fading American glamour girl with a penchant for titled aristos, actually shot Erroll in a fit of insanely jealous pique. Basing his theory on the thinnest of evidence—gossip, hearsay, and a letter of confession from Alice that he has never actually seen—he nevertheless paints an intriguing portrait of a thoroughly debauched social circle. Recommend this speculative true-crime scenario to readers prepared to reconcile simultaneous feelings of intrigue and antipathy. --Margaret Flanagan

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition U.S. edition (July 20, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312379706
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312379704
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,021,304 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Patricia Tryon on January 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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By A Customer on July 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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).
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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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