WHITE MISCHIEF by James Fox

WHITE MISCHIEF

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Two books in one, both good: an absorbing investigation of an ""unsolved"" 1941 murder in Kenya (the outgrowth of an article Fox co-authored with Cyril Connolly in 1969 for London's Sunday Times), and an intriguing portrait of pre-WW II colonial society in the White Highlands, where expatriate British nobs were ""suspended between English tradition and African customs, answerable. . . only to themselves."" The center of the social scene was ""Happy Valley"" and the Muthaiga Country Club, a ""libidinous, drunken atmosphere"" of pink gins and sundowners, dancing till dawn, musical beds, and drugs. The populace included remittance men, con-artists, playboys, thieves, and libertines. And anything went; one well-known hostess delighted in having her guests watch her bathe and dress; a cuckolded aviator once took to the air to drop rocks on his spouse and her paramour as they motored across the plains; and evenings at the Muthaiga Club often ended in drunken brawls (in one of which the Prince of Wales threw all the gramophone records through the ballroom windows). A central figure in this landscape was Josslyn Hay, the Earl of Erroll, a twice-divorced indefatigable womanizer--""To hell with husbands"" was his motto--found shot to death in his car one morning in January, 1941. Just prior to his death, Joss' attentions had been focused on Diana Broughton, the young second wife of Sir Jock Delves Broughton (she'd moved upscale from a bad first marriage to one Vernon Motion, second piano player for Carroll Gibbons and his Savoy Orpheans). Though there was evidence suggesting Jock had reconciled himself to Diana's affair with Joss--he even toasted their union at a chummy dinner the night before the murder--some other factors were incriminating: that recent bit of target practice, for instance, and that unusual bonfire in Jock's backyard. Tried for murder and acquitted (defense counsel picked apart the ballistics evidence), Jock never really recovered; his former friends cut him, Diana left him, and he took his own life. So who shot Joss Erroll? Building on his prior sleuthing with Connolly, Fox backtracks through 40 years to review likely suspects' whereabouts, doublecheck alibis, and, most interesting of all, interview surviving members of the Happy Valley set, including Lady Diana herself. Fox argues convincingly that the police were correct from the start--Jock did it--and it's a tribute to his skill as an investigator and writer that the end of his quest does not seem anticlimactic.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1983
Publisher: Random House