Huxley follows a model made familiar and attractive by Agatha Christie. She takes the trappings of the classic English detective story and transplants them to a locale more exotic than the steak-and-kidney-pie world where tales of that kind usually unfold. For Christie, the locale of choice was usually in the Middle East. For Huxley, an author best known today for her nonfiction writing about life in colonial Africa, it’s the Kenyan bush that provides an ideal out-of-the-way setting for murder and intrigue. During the late 1930s, she wrote a trio of mysteries that use that continent as their backdrop. Here, in the second of those books, she populates the scene with standard genre types: a self-important English lord, a fortune-bearing American wife, and an impetuous heiress, along with various hard-up adventurers—an ensemble that furnishes a perfectly suitable murder victim and a tidy crew of suspects. Other elements of her tale that echo common genre tropes include a jewel theft, an attempted elopement, and a pair of narrowly missed assaults on the life of Superintendent Vachell of the C.I.D., who represents the long (and slightly bruised) arm of British law in the Chania region of Kenya. With these and other ingredients, Huxley fashions a charming puzzler. While parts of the novel suffer from an excess of padding, overall it offers a blend of comedy, suspense, and detection that rivals the work of Christie at her best. The concluding wrap-up, complete with footnotes that cite the pages where Huxley has dropped clues for her readers to pursue, is particularly well done.
ELSPETH HUXLEY. Murder on Safari (1938).