The Blasphemers by Annamaria Alfieri (EXCERPT)

Hi readers! This week, I’m thrilled to be able to bring you an excerpt from the latest book in the Vera And Tolliver series, The Blasphemers.

Justin Tolliver is on the brink of an enormous change. The younger son of an English peer―that is, the son with no money and no prospects―he had joined the police force in British East Africa, full of dreams of bringing His Majesty’s justice to a “dark and savage” world. But it’s 1913, and with his faith in the British government in tatters, Justin is opting instead for life as an African farmer and a newly minted family-man. It is his wife Vera who has helped him put aside images of darkness and come to see Africa, instead, as all but lit from within.

Yet even as Justin is embracing Africa, Vera’s faith in the land is being tested as she is brought face to face with terrible brutalities and her own naiveté. There are murders, yes, and Justin and Vera will take a hand in solving them. But when the crimes are solved and the killers brought to justice, Justin and Vera will have to reckon with levels of injustice far beyond anything they had previously understood.

Read on for a thrilling excerpt!


The sergeant, whose name turned out to be Marcal, led Tolliver along a path that paralleled the shore of the lake. Scrubby bushes on either side hemmed in their view of the lake below them. From down near the shore came the voices of men talking, occasionally shouting.

“News of the murder has spread?” Justin asked Marcal.

“Nothing remains secret around here, sir.”

“I take it A.D.S. Lovett is at the scene.”

“Yes, sir, and the missionary doctor too. But the woman was very dead when they arrived. The doctor could do nothing for her.”

“We had better hurry.” A worry prickled Justin’s conscience. This situation could turn very ugly, very fast. His first duty was to protect Vera and Constance.

He walked quickly forward, warring with himself about whether he should go back and get his wife and sister out of the area as quickly as possible. After half a mile or so, he and the sergeant emerged into a clearing in a wooded area, separate from the gathering of huts where the men were still dancing. Amid a circle of rough, mud-colored Maasai dwellings, about thirty brilliantly clad women milled around, many weeping. A few of the oldest seemed to be chanting a prayer.

In front of the third dwelling on the left two askaris holding rifles stood at attention on either side of a low opening. Six more native policemen were arrayed around the tiny building. Tolliver thought again that he needed to get Lovett to bring Kwai Libazo up from Naivasha immediately. No one could be more useful than Kwai in a situation like this. And being half Maasai, he spoke the language.

Tolliver would not bother enlisting the help of any of these native policemen at this point. He would wait for Kwai.

He practically had to fold himself in half to get inside the hut.

“In here,” Lovett called from an inner room.

After the bright sunlight outside, it took a moment for Tolliver’s eyes to adjust. He found himself in a small, low-ceilinged, smoky room. In the middle of the dirt floor a banked fire smoldered in a circle of stones. The roof was held up by a mismatched collection of wooden poles, nothing more than tree limbs with the bark removed. The air was acrid. What smoke that managed to escape went out through a small opening at the top of the thatched roof. The place smelled also of goat dung and something like stewing beef, though nothing was cooking over the fire.

Lovett beckoned from the doorway to a separate, tiny space where the other odors were joined by the sweet smell of human blood. Ramsay knelt praying next to a wooden pallet raised only a few inches above the packed-dirt floor. The bed, if one could call it that, was strewn with a motley collection of blankets, and on them lay an old Maasai woman. One of her wrinkled, thin arms hung off the side and carried ten or fifteen wire bracelets.

Ramsay stood and removed a handkerchief, undoubtedly his, from the dead woman’s face. She had close-cropped gray hair; her eyes were closed. Otherwise, to Tolliver, she was indistinguishable from any other old Maasai woman he had ever seen. Ears and neck festooned with native jewelry. Her body covered with draped cloth in shades of red and blue. There was a large, browning bloodstain in the middle of her chest.

Ramsay held up a small iron native knife. “She was stabbed with this. It is the instrument she used to perform her atrocities on those girls.”

Tolliver didn’t know why, but he blurted out, “Is the ceremony over then?”

Ramsay hung his head. “It was not supposed to take place until tomorrow, but they moved it up, I am sure to foil our attempts to convince the women to withdraw their girls. The poor victims are with their mothers and grandmothers, writhing in pain, no doubt.” Toliver’s suspicions were aroused. But he realized that if Ramsay were guilty, he might play down his disapproval of what the dead woman had done. Ramsay’s attitude leant itself to conflicting interpretations—for and against his having murdered the woman himself.

Tolliver took the knife, which still showed traces of blood. He had solved a murder in Mombasa last year using the science of fingerprints, a new approach for Africa. But there was no such technique available up-country, not in Nairobi, certainly not here in Nakuru. There was no way to ensure that, if he sent the knife to the coast to be examined, it would be kept properly so the evidence would not be contaminated with the prints of everyone who handled it along the way. It already had his own and Ramsay’s on it. And if Ramsay was the murderer…?

He turned to Lovett. “This is your case,” he said. “I am not in this area on official business. I should leave this to you.”

Lovett grimaced. “Please don’t. I will gladly defer to your greater experience. I would not know where to begin.”

Tolliver bowed. His “greater experience” amounted to having been on the force just over a year longer. Lovett was the younger man, one or two years younger than Tolliver’s twenty-six years. Yet Lovett was the one with the cynical, disinterested air. He had arrived in the Protectorate from service in India with the Queen’s Own Corps, the most prestigious regiment in the Imperial service. Last year in Nairobi, he had been enthusiastic and determined. Tolliver wondered what could have happened to Lovett to rob him of his spirit.

“I take it you have notified Jodrell,” Tolliver said.

“May we walk outside to talk? The stink in here is killing me.”

“You go out and wait for me,” Tolliver said. “I want to take a closer look at the corpse. I’ll join you outside in a moment.”

Lovett beat a hasty path to the door. Ramsay remained in the room but stepped aside to allow Tolliver to approach the bed.

Closer examination told him nothing more. There were no other marks on the body, no sign that she had struggled. “Was the knife still in her chest when you found her?” Tolliver asked him.

“Yes it was. I pulled it out instinctively. There was nothing I could do for her. She was obviously dead.” The man spoke as if he were talking of a broken chair or a torn shirt. But this was a murdered human being. It was all Tolliver could do not to ask him outright if he had killed the old woman. “Come outside,” he said.

“What will happen to the body?” Ramsay asked.

“I don’t imagine we can learn anything more by looking at it.” Tolliver knew that the Kikuyu left the bodies of their deceased out in the bush for the carrion eaters to deal with. He had no idea what the Maasai did with theirs. “We can turn it over to her relatives.”

“I believe,” Ramsay said, “that the women who perform these atrocities do not come from the tribe itself, but come from outside the immediate group. More proof that on some level they know what they are doing is horrifying.”

Tolliver moved away to the main room. “I do not see how continuing to make such statements can be helpful at this point, Dr. Ramsay.”

The missionary glowered. “Exactly what do you mean by that?”

Tolliver shrugged. He knew what he was about to say would rile Ramsay, but he said it anyway. “Your hatred for what the woman did might suggest that you became overwrought and were the one who stabbed her.”


From The Blasphemers by Annamaria Alfieri. Copyright © 2024 by the author and reprinted by permission.

The Blasphemers by Annamaria Alfieri was published June 1 2024 by Stonesong Digital and is available from all good booksellers.

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