Travel Tomes: White Mischief (James Fox)

The debauchery of early aristocratic British settlers to Nairobi has long been of fascination to me, fascination fueled by Frances Osbourne’s excellent “The Bolter” (a biography of Lady Idina Sackville, known as taker of public baths, mastermind of swinger parties and the naughtiest of them all).

It was while on a recent trip to Nairobi that I picked up this account of her ex-husband’s murder in 1941 – a veritable Christie-style whodunit that pointed to almost everybody in the exclusive Muthaiga Club inner-circle and brought to an end the rampant gallivanting indulged in by certain settlers during the midst of a bloody global conflict.

Fox’s narrative of Josslyn Hay’s death and his subsequent investigation into it is exciting enough when

Muthaiga Club, Nairobi: Today

Muthaiga Club, Nairobi, 2013

tucked up at home, but takes on an almost eerie reality when looking over the Abadare Mountains, traipsing through Karen Blixen’s house or peering into gloomy, roped-off interiors of the Muthaiga Country Club.

While one can get mired down in the minutely researched detail, the romanticism of the story has not faded during the intervening years and Fox recolors sepia photographs of scarily thin-browed glamazons and stiff upper lips holdig hunting rifles to the vibrant personalities that made Kenya in the first half of the 1900s a society stranger than fiction. Reading this account is the closest thing to shadowing the footsteps of these moneyed hedonists.


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