The autopsy shows it was murder, but things really get sticky when Medical Examiner Claire Winter finds a rare lavender diamond in the gore under the body.
A geologist would know about diamonds, but the only geologist Claire knows here in the British protectorate of Tshaniland is Queen Malaila, whom she first met at Commonwealth University when they were both students. The queen has other problems, including the possibility that Edward, Prince of Wales, may be coming to Africa, and bringing his fancy woman Wallis Simpson. This would be an affront to the Queen and a source of unrest among the conservative party.
There’s an unexpectedly strong reaction when the Queen sees the diamond, and Claire is charged with finding out as much as she can about how it came to be in the murdered man's body.
Complicating matters is the presence of a possible Nazi agent at the agricultural project being sponsored by the Third Reich near the Royal Compound. Rivka Lerner, a refugee artist who lives with Claire, is sure the assistant manager is the man she saw near the Chancellery immediately following the Dolfuss assassination in Vienna. It may be that she has an overactive imagination, but the proximity of Tshaniland to South Africa and the potential for damage to British strategic interests can't be overlooked by Redmond Trevelyan, the resident Commissioner.
Things get personal when someone sets fire to Claire's house and then takes a shot at her on the mountain road. Someone doesn’t want the source of the diamond found or the murder solved.
Nostalgia buffs, homesick old Africa hands, and fans of the Golden Age of murder mysteries alike will enjoy this book, set in an age and place when life was simpler, and the source of evil clearer.
Word Count: 87,500
A scream of pain and terror tore through Claire's dreams of Boston, followed by the snarl of an animal. Leaping to her feet, Claire snatched a carving knife from the dresser and stood with her back against the pantry door, disoriented and frightened.
A strong smell of kerosene came into the kitchen on a brisk draft. Turning up the wick of the oil lamp while wondering if the kitchen was about to blow up, Claire called, "Who's there? What do you want?"
There was another scream, and the sound of something large crashing through bushes.
"Claire? What's wrong? What's that smell?" Rivka, her hair all over the place, raced into the kitchen trying to pull on a bathrobe with one hand while holding a lamp in the other.
"I don't know. Something's out there! Oh, God, how I wish we had a telephone!" Claire edged over next to Rivka, holding her lamp in shaking hands. "Should I go out on the porch and see what's happening?"
"Are you crazy? Do you have a better weapon than that?" Rivka asked, looking at the carving knife as if wishing would transform it into a Thomson gun.
"No, I mean yes, there's the poker," Claire said, edging toward the unlocked back door to see what had puddled on the floor. Stooping, she said, "This is kerosene: we shouldn't let it get any closer to the stove."
"I can fix that," Rivka said, darting into the pantry and coming back with a pile of newspapers. She stacked them around the puddle where they absorbed most of it.
"Well, we can't stand here all night. I don't want to go out there, but I don't want to stay here and not know. Ready?" Claire got a better grip on the knife and threw open the back door, holding the lamp high in her left hand, ready to throw it at the intruder if she got the chance. Rivka took the poker in a two-handed grip, ready for--what?
On the porch Wellington sat, his tail fluffed out to twice its normal size. He looked very much larger than he did in the kitchen. He was methodically washing his front paws. On the porch floor was a gin bottle, still leaking kerosene, and on the second step lay a box of matches. Someone had pulled Koko's rackety old rocking chair close to the open back window. An armful of wood from the kindling box had been piled on the chair.
"It looks as if Wellington was on his way out the window when he landed on the intruder, who seems to have been making sure there was plenty of flammable stuff piled up," Claire said. "That must have been a surprise for both of them. Wellington probably hung on for all he was worth when the man tried to dislodge him. I'll bet he thought there was a leopard on his back! There was a lot of crashing around after the screaming."
"I think I see what the crashing was about. Look at the hedge," Rivka said, holding her lamp up to illuminate a sizeable crushed area in the box hedge that separated the kitchen yard from the vegetable garden. Whoever had gone through it had not bothered to find the gate. "Good boy, Wellington, you're a hero." She scooped the cat up gently. "Noble cat!"
Claire doubted the big cat had purposely chased off the intruder, but was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. "Bring him in and let's lock the door."
"Why would a prowler try to set fire to your house?" Rivka asked, poking the coals in the stove to life and putting in a few small logs. Wellington sat on a chair and calmly began washing his furry jabot, as if chasing off arsonists was all in a night's work.
"I don't know. But I intend to find out," Claire said with a sudden shiver. "If I hadn't fallen asleep here at the table, the fire would have well and truly taken hold before we were aware of it."
"That sounds like the arsonist wasn't concerned about whether we burned up with the house or not," Rivka said, pulling the kettle over the hottest part of the stove and jabbing the firebox savagely with the poker. "What about a hot drink?"
"Tea: the English panacea for all the ills of mankind!" Claire laughed, just a bit hysterically. "An Empire was launched and maintained on a tide of tea!" She was suddenly aware that she still clutched the knife, and tried to put it down but her fingers were locked. It took a while to relax enough to release the knife, and when she did, the hand shook uncontrollably.
This product was added to our catalog on Saturday 30 July, 2011.