In 1927, the Belgian Congo on the African continent is an era of headhunters, cannibalism, man-eating leopards, curses and witch doctors. That same year, the chief of a Bapende village returns from tracking and slaying a man-eating leopard that has been terrorizing the village, only to discover his favorite wife has given birth to twins.
"[Tamar Myers'] experience living in Africa shines through in the book’s vivid and compelling descriptions and details. THE BOY WHO STOLE THE LEOPARD’S SPOTS should appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction with touches of romance and suspense."
According to superstition, the birth of twins means an evil spirit has entered a human form. To dispel it, the village witch doctor demands both twins be tortured and left to die. To save his sons, the wily chief dismisses the witch doctor’s claim and convinces the tribe’s people that the spirit of one of the twins has stolen the leopard’s spots, so both twins should be spared. Decades later, the boys, who have become known as Jonathan Pimple and Chigger Mite, are at the center of a deadly secret that shocks the residents of Belle Vue.
Belle Vue is a scenic town in the Belgian Congo, where inhabitants are separated by more than the bridge that crosses the Kasai River. Class, culture, mores, religion, language, superstitions, traditions, discrimination and freedom are but a few differences separating the European colonialists, Roman Catholic priests, American Protestant missionary and native Africans.
The voluptuous Colette Cabochon, born in the Congo of Belgian parents, lives with her drunken and abusive husband in one of the Belgian-owned villas that sprawl across the tops of high hills above the river. Madame Cabochon and the other whites enjoy lives of wealth and privilege, but the natives don’t fare as well. After decades of oppression, the indigenous people, who are used as personal servants and workers in the diamond mines, are poised to rebel against their oppressors.
In the midst of the turmoil, American Protestant missionary Amanda Brown arrives on the scene determined to make a difference. At the other end of the Christian religion spectrum are European Roman Catholic priests, who sometimes go to extreme measures to save heathen souls. After a violent storm, police chief Captain Pierre Jardin, who is attracted to the young American missionary, is called on to solve a murder. With the help of her very pregnant and very clever housekeeper, Cripple --- whose husband Their Death serves as an ineffective witch doctor --- Amanda is drawn into the center of the mystery.
THE BOY WHO STOLE THE LEOPARD’S SPOTS is set in the Belgian Congo and revealed through flashbacks from 1933 to events occurring in 1958. The story is told through the voices of characters, separated not only by time, but also by culture and language. Throughout the novel, passages of dialogue switch from English to French, Tshiluba and Latin. Although the frequent use of various foreign words and phrases, especially in the dialogue, enhances the flavor of the story, it slows down the action.
Tamar Myers, the daughter of American Protestant missionaries, spent her formative years in the Belgian Congo. Her experience living in Africa shines through in the book’s vivid and compelling descriptions and details. THE BOY WHO STOLE THE LEOPARD’S SPOTS should appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction with touches of romance and suspense.
Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt on May 25, 2012