In The Temptress: The Scandalous Life of Alice de Janze and the Mysterious Death of Lord Erroll (St. Martins, 2010), Paul Spicer wrote a gripping narrative of the Happy Valley set in colonial Kenya before and during the war. It was such a wild place, it takes the term “roaring twenties” to a new level. And I’m not talking about the lions some of the characters took in as pets.
Alice Silverthorne is a lonely American girl whose mother dies when Alice is only seven. Then her father abandons her and she drifts between Chicago and Paris. She marries a French count, Frederic de Janze, who isn’t the love of her life but is a devoted husband. As Alice de Janze, she travels to Africa on her honeymoon and develops a life-long love of the continent. Alice and Frederic move to Kenya shortly after they return to Paris from their honeymoon. This is in the early 1920s.
The story of Alice, Frederic, Alice’s on-again, off-again boyfriend Joss, his several wives, and the whole Happy Valley set is full of scandals even by today’s standards: partner sharing, attempted murder, and finally murder. It’s such a riveting story, it would be hard to fabricate the details that make this book so compelling.
Author Paul Spicer wasn’t an observer of many of these events, but his mother was. Over the decades, he met quite a few of the people in the book or their relatives. The Temptress is not a happy story, and quite a few of the characters end their lives by the end.
I found this book to be similar to The Paris Wife, but racier and with an unsolved murder mystery…until perhaps now. I just started Midnight in Peking, a murder mystery also set abroad during WWII. I hope it lives up to its hype. The Temptress is a hard act to follow.