Author: Tamar Myers
Publisher: William Morrow, 2011
Paperback, 256 pages
Genre: Historical Mystery, #2 Amanda Brown mystery
First Line: The gravel pits had been haunted for the past six years, ever since the first white woman drowned.
In 1945 an infant was left out by the gravel pits as a result of a botched kidnapping plot. The baby girl is found by a young Bashilele tribesman on his quest to claim the head of an enemy. The young boy takes the baby back to his tribe where she is raised as a member of his family-- even though her pale skin, straw-like hair and strange blue eyes mark her as being very different from the rest.
Thirteen years later, young missionary Amanda Brown hears the stories of a white girl living among the Bashilele headhunters. She enlists the help of the local police chief, Captain Pierre Jardin, and brings along the witch doctor's wife, Cripple, to act as translator. They find the young girl (now called "Ugly Eyes") and bring her back to the Missionary Rest House and "civilization". But the young white girl no longer belongs in Amanda Brown's world, and the secrets surrounding her birth and disappearance prove to be very deadly indeed.
Author Tamar Myers was born and raised in the Congo, so this is very familiar territory to her. (When reading the book, don't skip The Author Answers Some of Your Questions section at the end of the book where Myers talks about her life in Africa.)
The plot is well-paced and the mystery very intriguing. I didn't figure out the mastermind behind everything and did an "of course!" eye roll at the reveal.
Amanda is a good blend of strength and naivete. She truly wants to do the right thing even if that right thing doesn't coincide with what her judgmental elders believe-- and she has the delightful habit of speaking her mind before she can stop herself.
The book really shines in the setting and the clashing cultures. Myers delves a bit deeper into the Congo's tortured past as a colony under the rule of King Leopold II of Belgium and what the whites believe will happen when the Congo becomes independent in a couple of years.
The clashing cultures show to best advantage when Amanda's servants at the guest house try to decipher white behavior and dress. The scene where Cripple and Protruding Navel try to figure out how to put a bra on the young white girl is hilarious.
Returning to "civilization" after so many years, the young white girl probably has the best sense of the difference between the cultures:
The laughter of women as they set about doing their daily chores. Next to her mother, that is what Ugly Eyes had missed the most about village life. White people were so serious, their mouths perpetually pulled down at the corners, their foreheads so quick to pucker. Ugly Eyes did not know of a single village woman who bore vertical creases between her eyes, yet almost every woman at the party the night before had at least the beginnings of one.
I enjoy this series for its truthfulness, gentleness, humor and unpredictability. There is more than meets the eye between their covers. The lasting image of the books for me is the resident gargantuan crocodile who lives at the bottom of the ravine next to the Missionary Rest House. Seldom ever seen, the crocodile is well fed, since the rest house throws its garbage down there. In addition, there have been times that the unwary human has stumbled at the edge and fallen... never to be seen again.