This excruciatingly predictable novel, set in late 19th-century Kenya and first published in Britain in 1983, might have been subtitled ""The Schlock Trees of Thika."" Unlike Elspeth Huxley's Flame Trees of Thika, a luminous reminiscence of a girlhood spent among Kenyan tribesmen, wild animals, and stiff-upper-lip colonist neighbors, Halkin's novel places soap-opera clichÃ‰s in center stage, using Africa merely as an exotic backdrop for one middle-class family's marital conflicts, financial vicissitudes, and confrontations with adolescent children. The novel does begin well, with plucky Hester Andrews' delivery of her first child immediately after arriving at the port of Mombasa. Her husband, John, assigned to supervise the building of a railway through the bush--he learned his empire-building skills in India--has failed to dissuade her from going with him, despite her pregnancy and the lack of amenities in the just-developing colony. While their subsequent experiences in Kenya run a melodramatic gamut of life-threatening perils--from wild beasts and wild Irish rapists to tribal conflicts and serious illness--the clumsy characterizations (John's cartoonlike Scottish accent being particularly obtrusive) prevent that intense if temporary identification with unusual people and places that makes for memorable escapist reading. Unlike, say, The Thorn Birds, the novel fails to leaven its bathos with a compelling sense of place; and an awkward pacing that telegraphs every plot twist (in some instances, literally years in advance) has the reader impatiently longing for the author to get on with it. On the whole, formula fiction at far from its best.