by Kathleen Costa
This week we have a review of Jackal and Hide by Victoria Tait, along with an interesting interview with Victoria. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win an ebook or print copy of the book, and a link to purchase it from from Amazon.
Jackal and Hide: A Kenya Kanga Mystery by Victoria Tait
Review by Kathleen Costa
“Habari” From Kenya!
I am an eager fan of Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series not just for his clever mysteries, but for the strong female lead, endearing relationships, use of cultural language, and the picturesque descriptions of Botswana’s flora and fauna, so I was intrigued about Victoria Tait’s Kenya Kanga Mystery series, and judging by the marvelous covers, I was right to start reading her work. Now, I am a big fan of her stories, her lovely main character, and the intrigue and diversity of Kenya.
Victoria Tait currently has written four books in her Kenya Kanga Mystery series with number five due out in August. Her writing style uses a third-person narrative and is totally engaging from clever murder mysteries with well-developed plots and steady pacing to rich and eclectic characters varied in background, personality, status, gender, and age. The length of the books is ample allowing Tait to show growth in the characters and include side stories and insights into the various cultures, history, activism, and truisms about living in Kenya, but despite its complexity, it is still very easy to read with detailed, yet concise, chapters. The uniqueness of the environment and diversity of the population in Kenya is gloriously painted and explored as each book also highlights the behaviors and plight of specific animals. For flavor, she incorporates much of the local language often defined in context, but she provides a Kiswahili Word Glossary as a valuable resource for translations and in the eBook version many of those words are linked to glossary. I am partial to bonuses, so I would have liked a recipe or two to highlight any aspect of the Kenyan culture…very minor critique, I know. Nevertheless, if you enjoy cozies with an edge, set in a unique environment, tinted with a conservationist’s perspective, spiced with cultural realism and sensitivity, and filled with wonderful characters, then you will love these books!
As one of my favorite literary characters, Rose Hardie, also known as “Mama Rose,” is a delightful sixty-something, semi-retired, part-time veterinary paraprofessional in Nanyuki, Kenya, a small community north of the capital city of Nairobi with vistas of Mount Kenya. She is well-liked by the locals, relied on by family and friends, especially her invalid husband, does her best to deal with personal conflicts and her own physical challenges, and is eager to help others in need whether two-legged, four-legged, furred, feathered, or crusty skinned. She’s also, in her own way, an activist in support of protecting the local flora and fauna through conservation, although at times this has put her in opposition of the darker side of this mysterious continent.
Although each book in the Kenya Kanga Mystery series could be considered a standalone, references to previous events, growth of characters, and the building of connections and relationships might cause some to want to read the series in chronological order starting with Fowl Murder. However, Jackal and Hide, the most recent release (5/18/21), is a perfect place to start your reading safari.
Jackal and Hide Earns 5/5 Running Shoes…Engaging and Clever!
Rose has scaled back her responsibilities choosing to spend more time with her husband Craig whose health has been deteriorating. Yet, when a pair of orphaned baby ostriches and a four-pack of jackals need her expertise, she can’t say “No.” It works out when she receives a last minute invitation for her and Craig to spend a week at Aureus Lodge relaxing, enjoying the various amenities, and cheering on friends Chloe, Marina, and Thabiti, as well as their estranged son Chris, who are competing in the annual Leva Marathon. Despite the gorgeous surroundings, they witness the demands for special treatment by one guest and what appears to be an abusive relationship between he and his wife. But, later when the husband is frantic that he can’t find his wife, Thabiti’s sister Pearl reports seeing her head out early in the morning. There’s also a report of a car and tracks in the area she was seen. Rose gets that “look;” something is amiss…gravely amiss.
Blue-Ribbon Winner! Victoria Tait has penned another outstanding story as the fourth in her Kenya Kanga Mystery series with her signature build up to the crime: the efforts to relocate a young pack of jackals, insights into Rose’s relationship with her estranged son and conflict between father and son, and the exciting description of the Lewa Marathon. When the missing woman becomes a murder victim, the intrigue gets started. It’s a journey since a strong possible “who” is known by many, but that alone won’t stand in court, so it’s the entertaining search for the “why” and “how” that is important or…someone just might get away with murder. Realism is an element I enjoy and demand from what I read, and Tait does it in spades: Rose’s friendships, her wise council, her family’s conflicts and ultimate tragedy (tissues required) along with the personal stories of her close friends are woven into the drama that highlights her realistic investigative methods, keen sense, and clever reveal. I really enjoyed this book including gratifying tie ups: decisions made, futures bright…a “big thumbs up” for the series, too.
Note: The Lewa Marathon is an annual event, but due to COVID restrictions the in-person marathon is cancelled, however, on June 26, they will be continuing the Virtual Lewa Safari Marathon Challenge 2021 organized by Tusk. Check out their website HERE to “Run Wild” to make a difference.
Fowl Murder earns 5/5 Kangas…Totally Creative!
Book one introduces Rose Hardie who is always eager to help all sorts—humans and animals alike—so it is a no-brainer that, when a childhood friend is murdered, she actively seeks answers. Unfortunately, this brings up an incident from her past about the death of a young man, a memory Rose desires not to confront again. It was a shock to be told that despite the victim’s connections, the case is immediately deemed an accident and closed. Sensitive government issues would be at risk. The victim’s son, Thabiti, approaches Mama Rose, plays on her heart strings about “you owe it to my mother,” and together they get entangled in the investigation fraught with twist, turns, and personal peril trying to uncover the killer before anyone else falls prey.
Note: Three down, adept detective, eight letters…“bush baby.” It might not be the compliment one is seeking, until mentioning their agility, hunting prowess, and heightened senses. Seems the perfect description of Mama Rose’s detection ability!
Tusk Justice earns 5/5 Dawa Cocktails…Engaging and Entertaining!
In book two, Rose’s expertise is often sought by locals, conservationists, and other professionals due to her decades of experience treating various animals in her Nanyuki community. She’s right there when asked to intervene on behalf of an injured orphaned elephant calf, but when the manager of the Mount Kenya Resort and Spa struggles with a rash of thefts, it’s Rose’s sleuthing skills he seeks. But things get complicated. The managing director of the Gaia Conservancy is found murdered, and when the commissioner finds himself otherwise engaged, who does he ask to assist in finding the killer? Mama Rose!
Note: I was fascinated by the information provided about activism and the efforts of organizations and law enforcement groups whose mission it is to stop the poaching of various animals, especially the elephant, and details about the elephant and its manners and community. I was intrigued about the Dawa cocktail mentioned. Dawa means “medicine” in Swahili, and the cocktail is considered Kenya’s national drink…it’s the honey! Check out this Cocktail Party link for a bit of background and an easy-to-follow recipe cocktailpartyapp.com/drinks/dawa. Maisha marefu…long life!
Rhino Charge Earns 5/5 4by4 Rovers…Exciting and Clever!
In book three, Rose agreed to be one of many volunteers to help with the Rhino Charge, an off-road completion used as a fundraiser to support various conservation groups. However, her trip was delayed after her professional assistance was need to determine the condition of a recently abandoned baby rhino who was not responding well to its rehab. Fortunately, Rose and her young friend Chloe Collins were able to hitch a ride with a pilot flying in additional supplies to the race site arriving in time to help with the registrations. However, she witnesses mistreatments and angry retorts learning about rivalries, grudges, and possible sabotage to gain an edge. But, one competitor, not well-like by others for sure, turns up dead. Did he succumb to injuries from an accident or was he murdered? Rose intends to find the answers.
Note: I was fascinated by the insights into the history and culture of the Indian population in Kenya, the sensitive, but realistic, treatment of domestic abuse, and the many relationships beginning to blossom. The series is steeped in events during 2016, and in my Google search, I found that in 2017 the Indian population was finally recognized as the forty-fourth tribe in Kenya gaining many rights they long sought. Also the Rhino Charge is an annual off-road competition first held in 1989 and organized to raise funds for the Charitable Trust Rhino Ark. The rules are somewhat unconventional since the fastest doesn’t necessarily win.
ALERT! Book five is currently on preorder HERE on Amazon to be released on August 6, 2021. Grevy Danger was originally released as novella on Victoria Tait’s website, but it has been expanded into a full-length novel. Sadly, Rose is mourning a tragic loss and hoping for some peace and quiet to work through her grief, but she is shocked when a woman collapses in her arms. Then, while on an expedition to monitor endangered zebra, another woman collapses and dies. Authorities say it’s all coincidental, but Rose is suspicious and sets to uncover the truth.
Be a Big Victoria Tait Fan!
Drawing on eight years living in a rural area of Kenya, Victoria uses her experiences to engage readers in her soon to be five-book Kenya Kanga Mystery series. The best place for people to find Victoria Tait and learn more about her and her books is her newsletter. Sign up on her website, and if you join the mailing list, you can download book one, Fowl Murder, for free.
Facebook—Victoria Tait Author
Our Guest…Victoria Tait
Author of the Kenya Kanga Mystery series
KRL: It is a privilege for me to introduce Victoria Tait who is celebrating the release of Jackal and Hide, the fourth book in her Kenya Kanga Mystery series. It is a series of which I have become an eager fan. Before we get started, can you give us a mini biography for Victoria Tait? Who is she and what influenced her to become a writer?
Victoria: Hi, I’m delighted to have this chance to introduce myself and my Kenya Kanga Mystery series to your readers. My story is different from many authors as I have not yearned to be a writer since I was a child.
It was a decision I made two years ago. As a family, we returned to the UK from Kenya so my husband could prepare for his next job with the British army. I’d set up a physical business in Kenya, a farm shop and café, but as we would be moving with my husband’s job every two to three years, I would not be able to repeat this.
I’m a person who likes to be busy and wake up each morning with something to achieve in the day. I think I chose writing as I wanted to convey the remarkable, but very different way of life in Africa—a view which embraces community and enjoying the simpler things that we tend to forget in the western world.
I’ve been writing for just over two years, and it has allowed me to be flexible in these challenging times and sort out my family, our move from the UK to Sarajevo in Bosnia & Herzegovina, and homeschooling my two boys: one teenager and one who just acts like one.
I’m looking forward to a time beyond the pandemic when we can get out and meet local people and explore the amazing region where we currently live.
KRL: I love cozies, and your Kenya Kanga Mystery series is very entertaining following the delightful traditions of cozies with a bit of the exotic sprinkled in. What is it about cozies that had you interested in writing in the genre?
Victoria: I’ve always loved mystery and crime books, as well as films and TV programs, and I started reading Agatha Christie in my teens. I’m also interested in stories set in places where I’ve lived or visited. I worked in Edinburgh for four years and read many police and crime books which were set there. It was the reason I found Alexander McCall Smith’s books and moved from those set in Edinburgh to Botswana and the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Long before I ever thought about writing I saw Alexander McCall Smith on a ‘photo shoot’ in Edinburgh beside the office where I worked.
Since I’ve become a parent and dealt with depression and other issues in my life, I’ve had less of an appetite for thrillers and darker crime novels. Cozies provided me with somewhere to escape, have fun characters to follow through a series, and the mystery provides interest and intrigue. I was drawn to M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth books.
When I decided to write my own books, cozy mysteries seemed the obvious place to begin. I knew and read the genre, and as the crimes generally occur off-scene, I didn’t have to think about the gory or technical details of the dead body. And Africa has so much to offer cozies with wildlife and incredible landscapes, and local people and their way of life.
KRL: This four-book series began in the summer last year with Fowl Murder introducing “Mama Rose” Hardie as a semi-retired, married, veterinary paraprofessional who often finds herself in the middle of conservation efforts and a suspicious death. Can you give us some background or insights into the series and how it got started?
Victoria: “Mama Rose” is based on a friend who supported me through some difficult times. She doesn’t have a lot of money, but never stops helping people and animals. She is not a vet, but she does have herbal remedies and even produced a booklet to raise money for local donkey welfare, which lists some of the treatments I include in my books.
Like Rose, my friend is forthright, perhaps even more so, and despite all that life has thrown at her, she has remained strong, with a great sense of fun. At her 80th birthday party, she was on the dance floor until the early hours of the morning.
KRL: Setting your series in Africa is what drew me to it since I am a huge fan of Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency set in Botswana. It also creates marvelous opportunities to share a rich and unique culture. Starting with what “Kanga” means, what inspired you to use Kenya as your background? Is there something about the culture, people, and environment that you hoped readers would glean from your work?
Victoria: Kanga is the series name and also relates to the title of the first book, Fowl Murder. In Swahili ‘Kanga’ is the word for Guinea Fowl, which feature in Fowl Murder. But it is also the name for a brightly coloured cotton material. It is thought that the spotted pattern of some Kangas reminded people of guinea fowl feathers. In every area of Kenya, and particularly the coast, women, and men, wear the 1.5 m by 1 m pieces of Kanga wrapped around their waists as a skirt. Many women also wrap Kangas around their heads in a turban style.
It was everything about the Kenyan way of life which inspired me to write the books. I hoped to be able to share the view that life is not about material possessions and the latest fashions, but about having enough to eat and a roof over your head. And we should help others and appreciate our surroundings and celebrate the small things in life. A birthday is a celebration of another year lived, and people should not grumble when they are lucky enough to grow old.
KRL: The characters you’ve created in your series seem unique, however, exploring their personalities, manners, and relationships many seem like the neighbors, family, and friends with which readers might identify. Can we find you in “Mama Rose” or any one of your other characters? Did you write your characters by taking from real-life people, “changing the names to…,” you get my drift?
Victoria: “Mama Rose’ is based on a real person although tempered down. I’m not sure people would believe me if I wrote all the amazing things the real ‘Mama Rose’ does, and she is well into her 80s now. Although, as I plan each book, I am reminded of stories or events I witnessed which I can include.
For the other characters, I think of the type of person I need to balance or inject tension into the story, find a photograph on the internet, and with that image in mind, I develop their characteristics.
As I’m new to this, I’ve been amazed at how some minor characters have muscled their way into more important roles. I’ve just finished writing the fifth book, Grevy Danger, which started as a rewrite of a novella I completed last year. The story has changed, as has the cast, and a new, larger than life character has barged into the book. I’ve had great fun writing her into scenes.
KRL: I am fascinated by your background as a British military family having lived in rural Kenya and now in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I am an eager world traveler myself with Egypt, France, Philippines, and several places Down Under stamped in my passport. Does this worldview influence your writing? Do you see a need to change anything for your American fans?
Victoria: Moving to Kenya changed my view of life and has certainly influenced my writing. I’m planning my next series, which is set in the UK, and will have characters, locations, and events in it which I have experienced. I will write a book based in Bosnia & Herzegovina, but I feel I need a better understanding of the place, the people, and its history before I can be fully immersed in a series.
I had a discussion with my American editor, after completing Fowl Murder, about any changes I should make for American readers. She told me the book had an authentic feeling, as I’d written from the heart, so I shouldn’t make changes. However, I wrote an explanation about language and phrases which is in the front of all my books, and I try to add words which might be confusing or misleading to American readers to the glossary.
KRL: Your series also highlights the fascinating flora and definitely the fauna of East Africa along with the various habitats, conservation efforts, and animal activism. Guinea fowl, elephants, rhinos, jackals, and zebras are prominent on my Google search history. What kind of research did you do? I am guessing there might have been some up close and personal encounters. I rode a camel, held a koala, and ate snails on my travels.
Victoria: I’ve visited most of the places I write about and taken part in many of the events. I chose the timeline of 2016 as I wanted to include the inaugural Giants Club summit featured in Tusk Justice and the burning of over 100 tons of ivory. It was a landmark event which I was involved with, in a small way, and it has lodged in my mind.
I’m honored to have seen so much wonderful wildlife, and the illustrations on my book covers are taken either from my photos, or those of a friend from Kenya. I’m terrible at remembering names of birds and plants, but I have some useful books to refer to.
KRL: Your fourth book, Jackal and Hide, was just released in May, and why we are here to say…Congratulations! I personally love the cover art. Did you have any input into the cover designs for your series?
Victoria: My cover designer is Dane at eBook Launch. We did a lot of work on the first cover, the novella version of Grevy Danger. Dane wanted a layered approach, and I wanted a frame, so we compromised on the sky and vegetation border at the top and bottom. Once Grevy Danger was completed, I knew the images to send to Dane, and he knew the type of design I preferred: a background, with Mount Kenya, if relevant, a story element and the animals, which we have now brought to the front of the covers.
KRL: There are several cozy authors that have ventured into writing more edgy thrillers with more intense crimes. Have you entertained the idea of writing in another genre? Science Fiction, maybe, adventure thriller, or a romance on the Savannah?
Victoria: I’m still considered a new author as I have less than five books published and the first was released less than a year ago. General advice is to stay in one genre for a while, which I will with the new series I’m writing set in the UK. Some people feel the Kenya Kanga Mystery series is on the edge of the cozy genre as it is gritty and deals with actual issues and deep characters with real life problems.
The series I’ll set in Bosnia & Herzegovina may end up being more edgy, as I will be exploring, in part, the horrors of the Bosnian conflict in the 1990s. But I don’t won’t to scare readers away. This type of mystery does tend to fall into a gap though, as it is not warm and fluffy, nor is it a thriller, nor psychological or traditionally British. I hope that I will have built a sufficiently large reader base by the time I write this series that it will sell.
KRL: Writing can be very personal and unique to each author, and many have other employment obligations to manage. Does your writing compete with another job or family responsibilities? What is a day of writing like for you?
Victoria: One reason I tried writing was because I knew I would be unlikely to get a job for the next 8 to 10 years as we will be moving regularly, and in Bosnia, there is a high local unemployment rate and few jobs for expats.
But that is countered by my family responsibilities which have become increasingly complicated during the pandemic. In August last year, I had to pack the house up and decide what we could take to Bosnia, in our small allowance, and what to put into storage. We did not receive a handover when we arrived in Bosnia and had limited help finding our way around.
I’ve also had to deal with homeschooling and traveling between the UK and Bosnia which is problematic and stressful.
I write in the morning when my mind is clearer. If I’m home schooling or have activities with the boys, I get up at 5.30 a.m. so I can have an hour and a half of writing before making breakfast and organizing the day. I try to maintain this schedule, but it has been impacted by having Covid.
I like to go for a run or walk mid-morning and finish my writing by lunchtime. This does not always happen, so I may do some admin after lunch and write for another hour or two in the afternoon, and then my creative mind is exhausted. I really want to increase the number of books I publish, so I’ve started a writing challenge. I will try to write a book every 2 months for the next year.
KRL: You include a variety of animals in your series, and I notice your bio states you enjoy horse riding. Do you have horses or any other animals in your family? Has having animals in your life inspired your writing in any way?
Victoria: Sadly, we don’t have any animals at the moment. We weren’t able to bring our Kenyan cats with us to Bosnia, so they are living with my in-laws on a Scottish island and have found this winter very cold. We do miss them.
In Kenya I had a horse and at one time a couple of rescue ponies. One pony was called Bahati who is mentioned in my books. He was rescued from the side of a busy road in Nairobi as he was undernourished and had huge sores and other injuries.
I know how important animals can be. My cats brought me comfort in difficult times, so I know they can do the same for my characters.
KRL: Is there something people would be surprised to know about you? Any passionate causes or guilty pleasures?
Victoria: For the past few years, I haven’t had the time or energy for anything outside my family and moving and settling in different countries. I used to be very active and sporty, so I really want a calm six months so I can work on losing a significant amount of weight and getting fit again. I would love to find an event or competition to aim for which can help me achieve my goal.
KRL: Ok, here’s something fun, Victoria…Rapid Fire!
Ready! Set! Go!
Coffee or Tea? Coffee, all the way which is very un-English. I’m happy with instant Gold Blend although I recently started using a milk frother to create a cappuccino effect.
Dog or Cat? Cats. I miss our two Kenya cats, and the ones in Bosnia are too scared to talk to me.
Carnivore or Herbivore? More herbivore now. Since having my boys I’ve generally lost my appetite for red meat, although I enjoy chicken and salmon.
Pie or Cake? Oh, difficult. I shouldn’t really eat either, but I would probably chose a savoury pie, such as steak or chicken, or ham and leek.
Picnic or 5-star Restaurant? 5-star restaurant for a treat. I’ve been binge watching Masterchef recently, and I’m astounded by what the competitors produce. But for meeting family and friends, a picnic by a dam or river where everyone can swim and play games.
Print/eBook or Audio fan? Audio, definitely. I’ve listened to audio books since they were tapes packaged in large, dirty boxes from the library. I don’t have much time to read but enjoying listening to audio books and podcasts whilst I’m out walking or jogging, or when I’m doing the housework or cleaning. It’s such a shame audio books are so expensive to produce but with the introduction of AI voices I think that will change.
Theater or Wait for the DVD? Back in the day, theatre or cinema when I could. In Kenya, we had to drive three hours to Nairobi to visit the cinema, so it was a treat we planned and looked forward to.
Favorite Actor? No one actor really stands out. There are many great ones for different roles.
Favorite Actress? Dame Judy Dench
Dirty Martini or Pina Colada? Neither, a Gin & Tonic or glass of Prosecco.
Beachfront Property or Cabin in the Woods? Previously, it would have been a cabin in the woods, but having lived far from the sea, and loving my trips to the ocean, I would now say a Beachfront property, but somewhere quiet.
Active or Cuddling in a Comfy Chair? Active. I’m not a very cuddly person. My down time tends to be a walk or run listening to an audio book or podcast.
Finish these sentences:
If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be – the unknown women who’ve never had the acknowledgement they deserve for their contribution to society and the world. I recently watched Hidden figures.
If I were stranded on an island, the three things I would make sure I had are — the beachfront property from a previous question, a fully functioning solar energy system, and a portal gate which only I can operate to get from the island to civilization, and back.
If I had one wish, it would be — I can’t think of just one thing, as there are some many things and many people who need help and support.
KRL: This has been great connecting with you. We’ve covered several topics and had some fun, too. I, personally, am so thrilled to have connected and gotten to know so much about you and your work.
Thank you, Victoria, for joining us and sharing a little about yourself and your books.
To enter to win an ebook or print copy of Jackal and Hide (winner’s choice), simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “jackal,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen June 12, 2021. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If you are entering via email please include you mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. BE SURE TO STATE WHETHER YOU WANT EBOOK OR PRINT. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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