(creator: Tamar Myers)
|Amanda Brown was the only daughter of two physicians. Her high marks at school would have insured her position in any of the top universities that accepted women, but, having been converted while still at school in South Carolina after being the sole survivor of a terrible car crash, she was determined "to spend her life bettering the people of Africa" by serving as a missionary. In fact the job she got was to run the missionary guest house In the remote little settlement at Belle Vue in the Belgian Congo. She found that "the most difficult part of being a missionary (was) doing what the Lord wanted while you wanted to do something entirely different. Anything but run a missionary guesthouse."
She soon proves both friendly and efficient, and learns to respect the local people. Although she helps them sort out their problems and solve local mysteries, you could hardly call her a detective - but I enjoyed the books so much that I decided to stretch a point and include her here.
Tamar Myers (1948 - ) was born and raised in the Belgian Congo (now just the Congo). Her parents were missionaries to a tribe which, at that time, were known as headhunters and used human skulls for drinking cups. Hers was the first white family ever to peacefully exist with the tribe. She grew up eating elephant, hippopotamus, and even monkey. She attended a boarding school that was two days away by truck, and sometimes it was necessary to wade through crocodile infested waters to reach it.
She now lives in the Carolinas with her American born husband. She is the author of over 36 novels (most of which are mysteries), a number of published short stories, and hundreds of articles on gardening.
The Witch Doctor's Wife (2009)
Little by little, Amanda is drawn into the lives of the villagers in tiny Belle Vue - and she is touched by the plight of the local (and not very successful) witch doctor, a man known as Their Death, who has been forced to take a second job as a yardman to support his two wives. But when First Wife stumbles upon an enormous uncut gem, events are set in motion that threaten to devastate the lives of these people Amanda has come to admire and love events that lead to nothing less than murder.
What gives this book much of its appeal is the convincing, graphic description of its Congo background at a time when the locals were rejoicing at the impending departure of their Belgian overlords, on many of whom they were looking forward to wreaking revenge. Even Amanda's native housekeeper, Protruding Navel, is an educated man who can speak four languages. The local people certainly go in for descriptive names, for as well as him, there were Their Death, the witch doctor, whose First Wife (of two) was called Cripple because her left leg was almost two inches shorter than her right. She speaks perfect French, although she hadn't been allowed to attend school, and explains to her new employer, Amanda, "I sat every day outside my brother's classroom and listened to his teachers lecture." It is she who gives Amanda her local name of Mamu Ugly Eyes, because, as she tells her, "They are very pale, almost like water. They really are not in the least bit attractive." Another character rejoices in the name of Farts Too Much.
Cripple is, and remains, a convinced and proudly independent heathen, so Amanda soon realises that converting the natives might not be not quite as easy as she had supposed. It was a time when "Protestant missionaries and Roman Catholic priests were adversaries. If only the Catholics would stop worshipping Mary and be truly born again then they could work together to save souls." But, as it was, they could not even be counted as Christians.
The native viewed European customs with bewilderment. As Their Death tells Cripple, "Their ways are very complicated, and frankly, do not make a lot of sense. They eat three times a day, not two, because their food is insubstantial.They must drink only water that has been boiled, and they cannot tolerate even one small chili in their food. Did you know that they sit on a chair to relieve themselves?"
The author is an experienced and very effective storyteller, and there Is plenty of dramatic action, as when Cripple has to face public execution on a charge of murder: "It was the perfect day for execution. The air was both cool and clear, thanks to a steady night breeze that had blown away the mixture of fog and dry-season smoke that rendered most days in sleepier tones. Even before dawn the first spectators began to arrive. At one point, so many people crowded the bridge that it began to sway, precipitating a stampede in which three children were seriously injured, and one woman trampled to death."
It is Amanda who eventually saves Cripple's life. She may not be a real detective, but she provides the outside viewpoint which brings the other characters, including a very mixed collection of Belgian overlords, to life. It all makes a lively, entertaining read.
The Headhunter's Daughter (2011)
The missing girl had been brought up by a Headhunter who regarded the arrival of a search party as more than coincidence. Indeed he knew there was no such thing as coincidence. "Apparently, the whites ascribed many things they could not explain to this category rather than trying to understand. It never failed to amaze the Headhunter how such a primitive and ignorant people had managed to subjugate his own."
In the company of the local police chief, Captain Pierre Jardin (a sympathetic character whom she admires and who found her "gorgeous"), and with the witch doctor's wife, the quick-witted Cripple, along as translator, Amanda heads into the wild hoping to bring the lost girl back to "civilisation". But the girl no longer belongs in their world (she found white people "hideous beyond belief") and the secrets surrounding her birth and disappearance place them all in peril.
This is another but even more interesting and eventful story (including an attack by elephants and a man-eating crocodile), brought to life, as before, by the author's fascination with the old Congo background. Cripple is still asking awkward questions, this time about the reason that resident American missionaries kept their arms and legs covered at all times. Amanda explains to her "that it had nothing to do with the temperature but rather with shame.Their god was ashamed of his creation and wished for them to hide it until their death, at which time he would give them a new body."
In this book the author has wisely dropped the sometimes lengthy introductions that used to precede each chapter, and Amanda gets the villain to confess all. It holds the attention throughout.
This is another unusual story set against the same fascinating background, and with many of the same characters, as the previous books, but with references to cannibalism back in 1935 (when a priest is consumed by someone who later becomes a priest himself and cannot forget what he has done), and the way that the birth of twins was considered unnatural as one of the babies was thought to be an evil spirit, but, as no one knew which one it was, both were usually left out to die.
Belgian characters include Madame Cabachon who "was the femme fatale of the town of Bellevue", and who turns out to have a lot to answer for. It was she who "loved going to Sunday Mass. It was not because she was religious, but because she adored dressing up for church.`' When her chauffeur drove her to church, "they used different entrances and sat in segregated sections. After all, one could hardly expect a native who bathed in the river daily to sit next to a Belgian who bathed just once a week and even then, was content to sit in his own filthy stew." It is the use of this sort of unexpected turn of phrase that brings the book to life.
Then there was the handsome Monsignor Claremont who "was like a rotten soft-boiled egg that, if opened, would admit a sulphurous odor even stronger than Satan's." Police chief Pierre Jardin, on the other hand, "was not a particularly religious man," and resisted "the nosy enquiries from the American missionaries, none of them would accept no for an answer. To be fair, it must be remembered that these people were merely concerned about his soul because, without an exception, they believe that, as a Roman Catholic, Pierre Jardin was headed for eternal damnation and the flames of hell." Religion plays a major part throughout. Even Cripple's husband, Their Death, was a witch doctor, although not a very successful one as he "lacked salesmanship". The problem was "that he was a man with a kind heart. How can such a man place a curse of death upon another and have it seem true, much less have it actually come to pass?"
Things reach a head when an African called Jonathan Pimple (who had been assured by a priest when he was attempting to convert that "Jesus was not a Protestant; he was a Catholic!") announced that he himself had risen from the dead after three days, much to the consternation of Amanda and the Catholic priests. Soon he had put his congregation into "a joyous frenzy" while the whites "were foaming at the mouth".
All in all, this seems the least probable of the three books. Maybe the background is getting a little over familiar, and some of the characters are getting a little closer to caricatures, but I still enjoyed it, unlike some of the reviewers on the Amazon site who thought it was wrongly described as a mystery.
|The cover effectively sets the scene.|