The Belgian Congo of 1958, facing enormous social changes as colonial rule is nearing an end, is challenged by more intimate disruption.
The denizens of the lovely town of Belle Vue are separated by a chasm even deeper than the river crossed by a bridge that connects the whites on one side to the natives on the other. But there are other crossings, some peaceful, some not. Protestant missionary Amanda Brown’s servant Cripple is a heathen, a wise, self-educated woman married to a failed witch doctor. The stunning town sexpot, Congo-born Madame Cabochon, whose spouse is a sot, looks with dismay on the mutual attraction between Amanda and police chief Capt. Pierre Jardin. Into this mix of competing religions and wide class differences comes Monsignor Clemente, a Rome-based priest and childhood friend of Madame Cabochon. Clemente harbors a secret rooted in his time in the Congo as a young priest in the 1930s. The narrative switches back and forth between the present and the past, when twins are born to a powerful chief. Ordinarily twins would be killed, but the chief manages to save them, only to have one molested by a white man. The cure for that outrage is to have all the tribe, and the priest’s companion, share in eating the offender. Then the twins are torn apart by a kidnapping, and when they secretly reunite in Belle Vue, one is found dead, and the sins of the past afflict a town already poised for disaster.
This third in the series (The Headhunter’s Daughter, 2011, etc.), based on Myers’ life as the child of missionaries in the Belgian Congo, is not a mystery in the traditional sense. But it provides a fascinating look at life in a colonial Africa on the brink of catastrophic change as the wily Cripple manipulates her self-anointed betters.