The Idol Of Mombasa by Annamaria Alfieri (EXCERPT)

Hi readers! This week, we have an excerpt from The Idol Of Mombasa, the second novel in the Vera And Tolliver historical mystery series by Annamaria Alfieri, after the debut title Strange Gods.

1912: on the coast of British East Africa, the invasive and obtrusive British are tangled in an uneasy peace with the Sultan of Zanzibar. The British have outlawed the slave trade, but, well, it’s all a matter of who you know and who you owe, isn’t it? This slippery morality infuriates Vera Tolliver, a Scottish missionary’s daughter and the bride of Justin, an English police officer whose job it is to enforce the law… after he figures out what it is. The murder of a runaway slave only increases the complications, especially when a longtime friend of Vera’s is the likeliest suspect. Meanwhile both the British government and the Sultanate sail above it all, as though they have nothing to do with it, but Vera and Tolliver know their fingers are knotted into this tangle’s every strand.

In the following excerpt, Vera and Tolliver have returned from their honeymoon and are just finishing their breakfast. Vera has been urging Justin to give up his job with the police force. He wants to continue, at least for a while, and has accepted an assignment in the port city of Mombasa.


“Do you want to go to the Mission and stay with your father while I take care of my duty?”

She took in her breath in shock. “Never.” She could not imagine having to spend a whole day, much less months at a time so far from his embrace. “Perhaps we can entice Father to—”

At that moment, Miriam came out on the veranda. “A messenger boy brought this, Bwana,” she said, and handed Justin a telegram. She curtsied and quickly returned inside amid the clatter of the bracelets on her wrists and ankles.

He opened the orange envelope. “It’s from your father. But it’s addressed to me.”

Her breath stopped. It was bad news. If not, he would have written an ordinary letter and addressed it to her. Her hands gripped the arms of her chair. “Read it!”

The thin paper crinkled as he unfolded it and read aloud: “Robert Morley needs help in a police matter. Stop. Please give assistance. Stop. Letter to follow. Stop.” Justin gave Vera a quizzical look. “Who is Robert Morley?”

She let out an exasperated sigh. “A Methodist missionary,” she said. “Very dramatic, but he and Father have been quite close. They worked together in the Anti-Slavery Society.”

“Do you have any idea what this might be about?”

Vera shook her head.

Whatever it was, Justin was happy to have a favor for her father as yet another excuse for Assistant District Superintendent Tolliver to report for duty.


While Justin and Vera Tolliver were reading the telegram concerning the Reverend Robert Morley, Morley and his sister, Katharine, were also at the breakfast table, at the Methodist Mission. Katharine had announced her intention to walk to the native vegetable market next to the floating bridge between Nyali and the island of Mombasa.

Robert moved from the table to his little desk in the corner, took some coins from a drawer, and handed them to her for her shopping. “I will go straight over to the town by ferry,” Morley said. “I have business to conduct with the Mission Society.”

Katharine tied the coins into the corner of her handkerchief and thrust them deep into the pocket of her skirt. She sensed he was not telling her the truth, but she could never make such an accusation. Robert was a holy man. She could never question his goodness.

He did not seem to notice her momentary silence. Katharine pursed her lips. “I hope you are not going to go to Majidi. I do not trust him. He will hurt you.”

“I assure you that I am not going to him. I have the law and the Lord on my side in the matter of his slave. It would be useless to appeal to him again. I have something entirely different to take care of.” He lifted his eyebrows and gave her an arch stare, as if he were challenging her to question him further.

She looked down at the bare wooden floor, knowing he would take it as an act of submission, but also knowing that the action hid her doubts. There had been a time when nothing he did ever raised her suspicions.

When she looked up, he was smiling approvingly. “Take Joseph with you to the market, and keep him busy while I am gone. We don’t want him wandering off into danger.”

Katharine smiled back at him by way of assent. She fetched her favorite hat from the sideboard, the blue one that Robert did not entirely approve of. “I will keep Joseph in my sight.”

They parted company at their front door, he making for the ferry to Mombasa and she to find Joseph among the Mission boys.

Joseph was not there. The others said he was still asleep. She was impatient to get her marketing over with before the hottest part of the day so rather than wait, she instructed them to keep Joseph with them until she returned. She set off on the path toward the market, which took her through the dense forest mangrove that grew in the salty swampland along the coast. Three-quarters of the way there, she stopped in shock. In the dim light of the early sun filtering through the foliage, the body of Joseph Gautura blocked her way.

Katharine gasped. Joseph’s throat had been slashed. The flesh of his legs had been disturbed by an animal. She turned away, lost her breakfast at the foot of a thick tree trunk, and then she ran, stumbling over roots and vines, back to the mission, wanting no one but her brother.

But of course he had already left. Frantic, she returned to the mission boys. She found them sitting on the packed earth between the thatched roundel huts, eating a thick pap from wooden bowls with their long, graceful fingers. They leapt to their feet as she approached.

“Joseph has been—” She stopped, not willing to say the word murdered. “I found his body on the path.” The inner vision of it turned her stomach again.

They stared at her in disbelief, frozen like four brown statues.

“He is dead.”

They looked at the ground then, much as she often lowered her eyes before Robert.

“What do you know about this?”

They sputtered and spoke all at once, fell silent, and at last one confessed that they had known Joseph was missing but had been afraid to make trouble for him by telling her the truth. She sent them, one to find her brother at the Mission Society; one to look for him in the souk—in case he had been fibbing about where he was going; and one—with a spear—to guard Joseph’s body and keep the animals off it. She dispatched the last man to the police station next to the market near the bridge to fetch the police.

She could not settle her mind. Niggling suspicions and fears nagged her. Could Robert be guilty of any part in this? She recalled his argument with Majidi in this room just yesterday. Robert’s angry voice sounded in her mind, threatening Majidi—Over my dead body. Sometimes she hated that loud, certain way her brother expressed his opinions. Majidi’s voice had been hardly above a cold whisper when he returned the threat. Yours or his. Robert would never have hurt Joseph. But what if he had gone to the souk, where Majidi—surrounded by men loyal to him—could destroy Robert. Her thoughts swam with one possibility uglier than the last.

She was still pacing when one of the boys returned an hour later and told her the police had arrived at the body and taken over the situation.

Half an hour later, the boys she had sent after her brother returned, having failed to find him. She resumed her pacing. She uttered the name that had been ringing in her mind the whole while: “Majidi.” He must be the one who had slain poor Joseph. She wished with all her heart to see the trader punished with the swift justice of an angel’s sword. She tried to pray for Robert’s safety, but she could not. All she could think about was that she wanted that disgusting slave owner Majidi dead.


From The Idol Of Mombasa by Annamaria Alfieri. Copyright © 2024 by the author and reprinted by permission.

The Idol Of Mombasa by Annamaria Alfieri was published May 01 2024 by Stonesong Digital and is available from all good booksellers, including

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