A white policeman in British East Africa is uneasy with the inequality of the law.
Now that Justin Tolliver and his bride, Vera (Strange Gods, 2014, etc.), have returned to Africa from a trip to England, Vera’s wild streak continues to strain their marriage. Vera isn't content to stay home and support Justin’s profession, and she actually enjoys sex, which both delights and troubles her husband, who still harbors some Victorian attitudes. The couple’s arrival in Mombasa, a coastal city where British and Sharia law are in constant conflict, coincides with that of the Grand Mufti of Egypt. Although the British have outlawed slavery, they sometimes turn a blind eye to keep the Muslim rulers happy, and Justin’s new boss, District Superintendent of Police Egerton, is desperate to keep anything from marring the occasion. When Majidi, a wealthy Arab slave trader, is murdered, Egerton wants Justin to avoid any possible political problems. But that seems highly unlikely under the circumstances. Vera’s missionary father has asked Justin to help the Rev. Robert Morley, who made himself and his sister possible suspects when he quarreled with Majidi over one of his slaves. Justin’s sergeant, Kwai Libazo, has fallen in love with a Muslim girl whose sister was forced into prostitution by Majidi; their family wants them dead for the disgrace, so they too have a motive. Justin also has a European suspect: an ivory trader who sold his wares to Majidi and also brought slaves Majidi shipped off to other countries. Egerton would prefer the culprit to be a native African so as not to disturb the white and Arab powers, but Justin is determined to find the killer no matter who it is.
The mystery is buried beneath a shoal of red herrings and a colorful but disturbing look at Africa in 1912, home to many problems—slavery, racial inequality, conflicts between Muslim sects—that persist today.