Today Victoria Tait is visiting Ascroft, eh? to tell us about Tusk Justice, her latest novel in the Kenya Kanga mystery series.
Welcome, Victoria. Let’s get started, shall we?
Tell us about your novel. Is it part of a series? If so, please tell us about the series too.
Tusk Justice is book 2 in the Kenya Kanga Mystery series. I based the series in Kenya around the small market town of Nanyuki, in the shadow of Mount Kenya, where I lived for six years. Book 1, Fowl Murder, introduces the principal characters: ‘Mama Rose’ Hardie, a community vet in her mid-sixties and her disabled husband Craig; Thabiti, a young African man whose mother is murdered, and Chloe, a young attractive British lady who recently arrived in Kenya.
In Fowl Murder, Mama Rose is propelled into the role of amateur sleuth when a childhood friend, Thabiti’s mother, is murdered. Pressure is applied to the police to declare it an accident, so Thabiti persuades Rose to help him catch the killer.
Tusk Justice opens with the rescue of an orphan elephant whose mother was killed by poachers. The story centres around the first Giant Clubs Summit in 2016, when African leaders, businessmen and leading conservations came together to discuss the future, and survival, of the African elephant and its habitat.
In the book, I added a local conference before the summit. The keynote speaker is murdered in the hotel but with the Chief of Police in Nairobi, discussing security for the Summit, Rose is persuaded to help a young police constable solve the case.
I loved living in Kenya and through my books I want readers to experience its natural beauty, strange customs and wonderful people. I try to bring alive the noise of the busy market, the majestic Mount Kenya after rain and the smell of dust in the reader’s nostrils.
Where did the idea for the mystery that is central to the story come from?
The initial idea for the mystery, and how the murder took place, comes from an Agatha Christie short story. A murder occurs in a room which has two entrances, but none of the witnesses can see both. The story developed from there: once I start writing the characters tend to take over and whilst I have a general outline, the story often moves in unexpected directions.
Is there a theme or subject that underlies the story? If so, what prompted you to write about it?
I wanted to write about the Giants Club Summit and the plight of elephants. I visited the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi, where I watched young orphan elephants fool around. My children adopted one as a Christmas present.
Elephants live in herds but when young males reach fourteen or fifteen the herd leader, usually a mature female, drives them away.
From orphan elephants I explored the relationship between mothers and their sons, and it is this that lies at the heart of the story. I began with the quote,
“The love of a Mother to her child is unconditional.”
And finished with,
“They say that abandonment is a wound that never heals. I say only that an abandoned child never forgets,” Mario Balotelli.
How do you create your characters? Do you have favourite ones? If so, why are you partial to them?
My main character is based on a fantastic lady, and friend, in Kenya who selflessly helps other people. My other characters have come to me whilst I have been out running or walking and my mind mulls over the stories. I have one character Sam, an enormous bear of a man, who started as a barman and suspect for the first murder but he wouldn’t go away and has developed into a complex character who seems to act as Mama Rose’s guardian angel.
I try to be authentic in that the characters match people you might meet in Kenya. Names are something I spend a lot of time with. The meaning of many character’s names often underlies their personalities. I also try hard not to confuse readers by starting names with different letters.
How do you bring to life the place you are writing about?
I am lucky as I have lived in the town I write about and visited many of the places in the books. I try to imagine standing in a room or on a busy street and what the people and animals are doing around me? What time of day is it, and what is the weather? This affects their actions. What can I smell and hear? I’m not so good with touch or taste, although there is a lot of food and drink in my books. Meals, coffee breaks or drinks at sunset are times when my characters meet. They chat and I follow the conversations with my keyboard.
What research do you do to provide background information to help you write the novel?
I am old-fashioned as I still use pencil and paper to begin my books. I sketch scenarios and connect characters and actions. I have A4 booklets where I write down my research. I start with a topic and see where my research takes me. Then I start another subject. The themes start to come together, followed by the story. Finally, I develop the characters. At this point I find myself immersed in the story and I can begin writing.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about the book?
My books are cozy mysteries as there is no sex or on-screen violence and they have a determined, often nosy, female protagonist. The setting is a small town. However, they are not cozy cozies and tackle some serious topics such as corruption and poaching. They are for readers who like to learn about new places, are interested in exploring different themes with complex characters, and enjoy a good, old-fashioned mystery.
Thanks for answering my questions, Victoria, and good luck with Tusk Justice, the latest book in the Kenya Kanga Mystery series.
The novel is available at the following online retailers:
About Victoria Tait: Victoria is the exciting new author of the Kenya Kanga Mystery series. She’s drawn on 8 years living in rural Kenya, with her family, to write vivid and evocative descriptions. Her readers feel the heat, taste the dryness, and smell the dust of Africa. Her elderly amateur sleuth, “Mama Rose” Hardie is Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple reincarnated and living in Kenya.
Like all good military wives, Victoria follows the beat of the drum and has recently moved to war-scarred Sarajevo in Bosnia. She has two, fast-growing nearly teenage boys. She enjoys horse riding and mountain biking but is apprehensive about learning to ski. Victoria is looking forward to the sun, sand, and seafood of neighbouring Croatia when the world returns to normal.