The story starts in France with Jade de Cameron, an expert ambulance driver, in the thick of the front line horrors of World War I. It quickly moves to Kenya, then Englands British Protectorate, where Jade has secured a job writing for a U.S. travel magazine. The job provides cover for her main tasks - to find the mysterious brother of her recently deceased boyfriend and to uncover the truth behind his fathers unexplained murder by a hyena.
Arrudas heroine is a composite character drawn from the life stories of Beryl Markham, Isak Dinesen, and Osa Johnson. She is a 1920s new woman, very American with her outspoken, independent spirit and willingness to introduce new fashion styles. The book is peopled with a colorful range of colonial types. Although the story is told through the narrow lens of the Europeans, there are descriptions of the Maasai and Kikuyus, and references to the mixture of languages. The economic and social life of the British expats is well told, with many barely hanging on after the disruption of the war and devastation of diseases such as anthrax.
The books well paced action and travelogue description of East Africa compensates for two jarring notes, Arrudas reliance on native beliefs in the power of witchcraft, which lets her avoid a rational solution to the storys grizzly murders, and the romance novel style of some of the description and dialogue. One nice touch are the excerpts at the beginning of each chapter from Jades travel magazine describing Nairobi, the plantations, and a safari trip. This helps ground the story in its unique time and place.