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on 23 July 2012
Do you ever read a book you enjoy so much that you hunt down similar books about similar subjects to fill the void? It never works. After Paul Spicer's 'The Temptress,' I read Frances Osbourne's 'The Bolter,' which was an anti-climax.

This book, by contrast, was an absolute delight. I can't recommend it highly enough. Spicer is clearly invested in his subject, Alice De Janze, an uncommonly beautiful American heiress and member of Kenya's notorious Happy Valley Set between the wars. The writing is flawless, evocative and transporting. The subject matter is engrossing. Spicer writes about Alice incisively, striking exactly the right balance between analysis and narrative, maintaining exactly the right distance from a subject with whom he is somewhat connected (she was friends with his mother.) This is a story you'll read without blinking, until you realise it's 4am and you're disappointed to be finished. The pace and tone of the narrative is compelling, too. Just when you feel the story is meandering along at a comfortably pleasant pace, something terrifically dramatic happens, and Alice De Janze's life was punctuated with a lot of cinematically melodramatic moments.

The most infamous of these incidents in the book is the murder of Lord Erroll (the subject of 'White Mischief,' a book by historian James Fox, and later a film of the same title.) A reviewer below criticises Spicer for his theory about Erroll's murder, and this is probably legitimate. I haven't read 'White Mischief,' so Spicer's is effectively the first theory about Erroll's death that I have read. For this reason, I was pretty easily persuaded. Those who are more widely read in this area can better judge. However, as an ignorant but interested reader I enthusiastically recommend this to like-minded readers. It's a little bit racy and a lot scandalous, but also thoughtful and empathetic, offering new insight into a beautiful, complicated and deeply troubled woman.

I went on to read Karen Blixen's 'Out of Africa' for the first time, which I loved. I can also recommend 'Wildflower: An Extraordinary Life and Untimely Death in Africa' by Mark Seal. I plan to read 'White Mischief' and 'Too Close To The Sun: The Life and Times of Denys Finch Hatton' by Sara Wheeler. Since finishing 'The Temptress', I find I almost miss the heady atmosphere of white Kenya and the African landscape. I want to read more books with lions in them.
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on 3 December 2012
An interesting and well written account of the life of Alice, Countess De Janze, one of the Happy Valley set. However, the author's contention that Alice murdered Josslyn Hay, Earl of Erroll, is based on speculation rather than fact. As a candidate for the murder Alice is at best in the "possible but not probable" category and, with so much time passed and all possible suspects long dead, the murder is unlikely to ever be solved. James fox's White Mischief is still the most plausible account of what may actually have happened.
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on 29 May 2010
Having lived in Kenya until 1973, and regularly visiting it since to visit relations, I found it very interesting. I agree with the writer that he is very likely correct
in his naming the murderer of Joss.
But I did find it disconcerting that there were many mistakes on other facts, which I personally noticed knowing the country and the people involved.
For all it is a very interesting book and well worth reading.
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on 8 September 2011
Bought this book for reading on holiday, having watched the film "White Mischief" and being rather intrigued about all the lives and loves of the "Happy Valley" set. An interesting story. Only one drawback - I was so keen to continue reading page after page, that before I knew what had happened, I had finished the book before the holiday was over!!
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on 8 November 2010
I came to this after reading 'White Mischief' and 'The Bolter', in which Alice played significant, though peripheral, roles. Spicer makes much of his family's connection with Alice and the Happy Valley set, but other than a few facts about her early life and the reminiscences of her children, this doesn't add much to the general reader's knowledge. Considering the sensational material, the book isn't a gripping read, partly because of the author's tabloid style and also because his two major conjectures - that Alice killed Joss Hay and that her behaviour was a result of a specific mental illness - seem spurious and are impossible to prove beyond doubt.
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on 4 July 2010
An interesting biography of Alice's history and life, although you feel some areas are not fully explored (history with father for one).
However, as an addition to the Erroll murder investigation I didn't find it added anything new, and was not convincing in its conclusion, as the "confession letter" is already known about. (And why has no-one ever tracked it down...?) This however, is hardly Spicer's fault, as the murder is already too distant to ever be solved finally and indisputedly. Also why does he gloss over the most famous scene of her life in the mortuary ?
Beautiful photos though, but it needs more...
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on 20 May 2010
A must read for anyone who is interested in this era. I personally found Spicer a fantastic writer and one who clearly put his heart and soul into this woman. His detective-like approach shines through in his thesis on Alice murdering the Earl of Erroll. I, who for a long time believed guilt must surely lie with Jock Delves Broughton, am now convinced by Spicer's accusation that it was Alice. Spicer's portayal of Alice has to be one of the most fascinating biographies of late and i could not put it down once.

I cannot recommend it more. It would make a fantastic film.
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on 13 May 2010
I have always loved the photograph of Alice De Janze nursing that huge lion cub, which I first saw in the book 'White Mischief'. She seemed a fascinating subject for a biography and the writer does not disappoint. He is obviously one of those writers who has a deep affection for Kenya and prepares the scene very well for the character he introduces. Her unstable personality and violent mood swings certainly make one wonder if she did kill Errol. After all these years writers are still discussing this murder and it never ceases to fascinate the reader. Did she do it? I think we will still be in the dark, however it is well worth reading. I would recommend this book for a good holiday read or long air/train journey.
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on 27 September 2015
I read this after The Bolter,in which Alice de Janze also features. A 'poor little rich girl', she had a pampered yet dysfunctional upbringing. Her mother died early and she spent a lot of time with her father, till taken to live with relatives in her teens. Her marriage was not a love match, and the book concerns mainly her time in Kenya up to 1941 when she killed herself.She had various affairs, most notably with Joss Hay, the White Mischief victim. She was an absentee mother and seemed to prefer her animals, which included a monkey and a lion.
She suffered from depression and shortly after the trial following Erroll's murder killed herself. The author thinks she,not Jock Broughton, shot Erroll. She may have done, but the evidence is sketchy.She was capable of it-she stood trial for shooting her lover Raymund de Trafford, whom she later married.
This is an entertaining book but a little too nice to everyone-why no mention of Joss's horsewhipping?
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on 28 May 2010
We have been very intrested for years in the going ons of the happy valley set in Kenya and the life and death of Lord Errol we own many books on this subject and this book gave us a deeper insite to the going ons and also was good reading but still leaving that little bit of dout to what really did go on with Lord Errols murder
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