A month or two ago I happened upon Julian Rathbone's Homage, and was sufficiently taken with this intelligent and exciting novel to want to read another in the series, if series it can be called. This is the second novel featuring the Bournemouth private eye Chris Shovelin, but unfortunately it is also the last as Julian Rathbone died last year at the age of 73. This is a sad loss as he was an extraordinarily prolific and wide-ranging writer.
"What comes across in the writing is a dry, cynical, sophisticated mind grappling with a corrupt world." So says his Times Obituary. I'm not sure how well this applies to his fictional detective Chris (or Kit, as he prefers to be called). In Homage Kit found himself in San Francisco, and here he is in Kenya. But though in both novels he is caught up, despite himself, in battling corruption on a grand scale -- here it is an international food conglomerate bent on promoting GM crops at all costs, helped by a corrupt and violent police force -- Kit himself has a sort of innocence, despite his intelligence and his left-wing principles. He has ended up with a few days to spare in Kenya, having completed a fairly simple commission for some English clients, and thinks he might have a relaxing holiday. But a chance meeting on the flight back to Nairobi with the rumpled, friendly, rather melancholy Ludwig Holly ("Conrad would have recognised him and Graham Greene would have bought him a drink") followed by a second apparently chance encounter with the attractive journalist Danielle (Danny) soon catapults Kit into a series of often horrific events. These include several beatings by the police, a terrifying journey on foot through the wild Kenyan outback, and a dreadful experience of the sewers and underground cellars of Jomo Kenyatta Airport. On the way he meets some wonderful and extraordinary characters, including a Masai warrior known as Golly who turns out to be a doctor trained at Guy's Hospital, and Dr Vikaram, the ex-university professor who is writing a monograph on Ulysses while she works as a toilet attendant. Kenya itself comes wonderfully and often scarily to life in all its beauty and, yes, its terrible corruption. Kit, no longer in his first youth, soldiers on through all this, narrowly escaping death on several occasions, and increasingly aware of how much Danny has come to mean to him after her sudden and unexplained disappearance.
I really really enjoyed this novel. I see Rathbone created other, earlier, fictional detectives and will certainly seek them out. But this one will stay with me for a long time, I think.