Ahmed's Revenge

Richard Wiley, Author Random House (NY) $23.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-679-45744-2
After she happens to see her husband, Julius, enter what appears to be a smuggler's warehouse full of elephant tusks, Anglo-Kenyan coffee farmer Nora Grant--the heroine of this unpredictable and absorbing whodunit set in 1970s Kenya--wonders how well she knows him. The question grows harder to answer when Julius is attacked on the plantation by a lioness, then suddenly dies in the hospital, even though recovery seemed certain. Was he murdered? Was English-born Julius resented by the Kenyans as an expatriate interloper? Was his real business in illegal ivory, not coffee? As Nora probes the circumstances surrounding Julius's death, she finds herself forming uneasy alliances with various deftly limned characters: charismatic opera singer Miro; the Maasai servant Kamau, who seems to have turned against the Grants; the courtly Mr. N'Chele and his duplicitous, vitriolic son, ""Mr. Smith""; and her own father, his mind fogged by senility but not perhaps entirely free of amoral self-interest or racism. The mystery plot sometimes hampers PEN/Faulkner winner Wiley's larger investigations into the alliances and enmities--between African and Englishman, bureaucrat and farmer--that animate modern Kenya. Yet Wiley (Indigo) writes with a vividly pictorial eye and evokes the burgeoning sophistication of Nairobi, as well as the wilderness forever tearing at its boundaries. Monkeys pelting Nora with rotten avocados, a vast wooden box containing what seem to be the tusks of the elephant Ahmed; another wooden box with a severed arm; Nora walking through the dusk with a lion's heart bloodying her hands--such inventive imagery pervades the book, illuminating the moral and cultural questions at its heart. (July)
Reviewed on: 06/01/1998
Release date: 06/01/1998
The Best Books, Emailed Every Week
Tip Sheet!