Stanley's presumption that the white man he stumbled upon in the wilds of the Congo must be the lost Dr Livingstone was at least based on some knowledge. The same however, can not be said about some of the assumptions that Pagan Kennedy makes regarding the thoughts and motives of Presbyterian missionary William Sheppard in BLACK LIVINGSTONE. As another reviewer has already pointed out there are too many instances of "he must have thought" "he would have believed" "perhaps he felt" and so on. Suppositions that because they are repeated so often only draw your attention to the reality that there seems to be an awful lot that the author doesn't know about her subject. It's also very distracting.
More research may have only helped a little as there does not seem to be a whole lot of information available about William Sheppard. Born in 1865 in Virginia he attended Hampton Institute and then entered the ministry in Alabama. After pastorships in Georgia, this young black man in the predominantly white Southern Presbyterian Church was offered a position as missionary to the Belgian Congo in 1890. He and a fellow missionary - 23 year old white Alabaman Samuel Lapsley set off for what would be a 20 year adventure for Sheppard. Lapsley on the otherhand lasted no time at all. He died from fever in 1892, eventually being replaced by William Morrison who came out in 1897.
Writing style and paucity of research material on the main subject notwithstanding, the book does a good enough job with the descrition of some of the adventures that Sheppard embarked on. Such as his journey to the land of the Kuba peoples "who lived at the end of a labyrinth of secret paths; anyone who told the way into the city would be beheaded." This was also Congo under the rule of the rapacious Belgian King Leopold II and one of the duties assigned to Sheppard following Morrison's arrival was to document the cruel exploitation of the locals by the Europeans. Sheppards' uncovering of a massacre of locals by a cannibalistic king working at the behest of the Belgians showed both his bravery and his ability to handle tricky situations.
In the end the man was undone not by tribal feuding, politics or Belgian revenge, but by subtle human failings. He was found guilty of adultery having taken a few African mistresses while on service and was called home to answer charges by the church. It is strange that in discussing this episode the author is not as forthcoming with proposing what Sheppard might have been thinking or feeling. Perhaps it is finally a recognition that we simply can't know.
William Sheppard comes through as a brave, enterprising, and intrepid person. More akin to adventurer than missionary. He certainly rises above his fellow church workers. If BLACK LIVINGSTONE had been simply a telling of his story rather than guessing his thoughts, then the book would have been as enjoyable as the man was interesting.