Strange Gods by Annamaria Alfieri (EXCERPT)

Hi readers! We’re in for a treat today, as we begin a series of semiweekly excerpts from Annamaria Alfieri’s recently reissued historical mystery series set in 1911 British East Africa, Vera And Tolliver.

The Vera of the series is Vera McIntosh, the rebellious daughter of Scottish missionaries. Having grown up in Africa with Kikuyu playmates, Vera is not the well-bred Scottish maiden her mother would like her to be. More than anything, she dreams of the idealistic and handsome Justin Tolliver, a member of the police force she’s previously danced with.

When the body of Vera’s uncle, a doctor of the mission hospital, is found with a tribesman’s spear in his back, Tolliver comes to investigate. Tolliver’s superiors want him to arrest a suspected Kikuyu medicine man, but as the weapon used was a Maasai spear, Tolliver doubts it could be the medicine man and pleads for the chance to prove the man’s guilt. With the help of Kwai Libazo, a tribal lieutenant, Tolliver discovers there is much more to the story…

A romantic and engaging mystery, Annanmaria Alfieri’s Strange Gods captures the beauty and the danger of the African wild and the complexities of life when cultures clash.

Read on for an excerpt from the debut novel, Strange Gods!



They never went out in the dark because of the animals. But if she was ever to escape the boredom of life confined to the mission compound, determination had to win out over terror.

So, well before first light, she left her bedroom. The things she would need were packed and waiting for her in the Kikuyu Village.

She went barefoot through the back door of the house and into the kitchen yard. Once outside she slipped on her boots and tried to step lightly. She stole past the Mission office and the school. The moonlight was dim, but adequate. Her eyes were good.

All she wanted was a bit of adventure. To go on safari. She resented being kept at home while her brother Otis was allowed to go. She was nearly six years older, yet he had already gone more times than she. The Newlands had invited her as well as Otis, but her mother had refused to allow her leave. Her mother who tried to control every minute of her time. Well, tomorrow morning she would tell Mr. and Mrs. Newland that her mother had changed her mind. By the time her parents discovered what she had done, they would have no way to bring her back.

It was juvenile of her to be doing this. She was a grown woman, nearly twenty. But she would never have the chance to be an actual grownup, to make her own decisions. British rules of maidenhood did not allow for that.

Otis was already at the Newland farm, set to go off into the wilderness in the morning. After much cajoling, he had agreed to help her slip away and join the safari party. “We will set out at dawn,” he had said before he went. “I will get Mr. Newland to take us near the Kikuyu village, but you will have to be there and ready by six.”

“That’s easy enough.”

“What will you say if they catch you?”

“I will go beforehand and put my rucksack and my rifle in Wangari’s hut. That way, if they see me up in the night, they will not suspect the truth.”

“Very well,” he said, grave faced. “That’s a good plan.” She loved it that he pretended to be a man. He was such a serious boy.

The chill of the wee hours made her wish for the jacket that was already at the bottom of her pack. She scanned the shadows for the slightest movement as she crossed the bare packed earth of the Mission grounds, listening with her ears, with her skin for any sound of danger. Hippos might have come up from the river to graze. They were deadly but not quiet. The cats were silent but unlikely to be hunting here now. They came often to look for water in the dry season, but not after the long rains, when the land was moist and the water holes all round about were full.

Stupidly she thought of Tolliver. Whenever she moved from one place to another her thoughts always went to him, as if her bones and her blood vessels wanted her to move only in his direction, wherever else she was going. Tolliver, though, would never approve of her defying her parents. He was a proper Englishman. Men like him never expected a good girl to do anything but what she was told, even when she was an adult in every other way.

The moonlight threw a weak shadow beneath the thorn tree growing in the sward that separated the stone hospital from the grass and wattle school. A rustling in the underbrush halted her steps and her breath. She was between the river and whatever that was in the shadows near the chapel. If it was a hippo, it might kill her with one snap of its powerful jaws just for blocking its way back to the water. Suddenly the night was full of sound. As many cicadas as there were stars, singing out near the hospital privies. The chilling cry of hyenas behind her, beyond the coffee groves. And then the long, deep, hollow vibration of a lion’s roar that sounded as if it came from the core of the earth. The cat’s night song did not frighten her. They made that noise when they mated. She thought of Justin Tolliver again but pushed her mind away from the mating call in her own blood.

She stole toward the stable, with her eyes to her right where the rustling in the undergrowth had come from. When she heard nothing, she ran flat out until she came to the veranda of the hospital. The windows of the building were dark. Not even a candle burned in the wards. She slipped into the gloom at the near-side stone wall, panting a bit, more from fear, than running. She breathed deeply to calm her nerves. The noise of something moving came again, nearer now. She was about to back away to try to get inside the building before the animal reached her when she saw a person carrying a lantern, approaching around the far corner. It could only be Otis, come back to help her, but why would he bring the lamp? She held her breath not to shout and scold him.

She crept in his direction.

The figure carrying the lantern became clear.

Vera gasped. “Mother!”


“I— I—-.”

“Go to your room and stop this nonsense.”

“But, Mother…”


There was no disobeying her mother when she used that tone.


From Strange Gods by Annamaria Alfieri. Copyright © 2023 by the author and reprinted by permission.

Strange Gods by Annamaria Alfieri was published December 28 2023 by Stonesong Publishing and is available from all good booksellers.

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