Jennifer McVeigh burst onto the literary scene in 2013 with The Fever Tree, an exquisite novel that earned rave reviews (see below) and elicited comparisons to Gone With the Wind, The Thorn Birds, and Out of Africa. McVeigh now delivers on the promise of that debut with LEOPARD AT THE DOOR, a sweeping saga and January 2017 IndieNext Pick that spotlights East Africa in all its fierce beauty. McVeigh offers an unforgettable portrait of life in mid-twentieth-century Kenya, a British colony in violent transition with political and racial tensions erupting against the fading backdrop of the British Empire. Kirkus Reviews raved, “Readers who want a story that keeps them on edge will enjoy this historical novel rich with emotional and sociopolitical drama.”
Putnam published LEOPARD AT THE DOOR on January 3, 2017.
LEOPARD AT THE DOOR is at once a historical survey of the Mau Mau Rebellion, a bloody and brutal uprising that the author researched in her travels to remote areas of east Africa, and a story of blossoming love and hope amidst the hostile backdrop of a nation at war. Rachel Fullsmith grew up in Kenya at Kisima, her British parents’ sprawling up country farm.
When her mother died suddenly, the twelve-year-old was abruptly sent back to England for a proper boarding school education and a “civilized” life. Six years later and her schooling finished, Rachel boards a ship for Kenya to reunite with her father and her beloved childhood home. But after her arrival Rachel quickly learns that the Kenya of her dreams is slipping away.
Her father’s live-in companion, Sara, is a controlling, intolerant woman and the farm has changed dramatically without her mother’s loving hands to manage it. Her distracted father is disturbingly accepting of Sara’s casual cruelty toward Africans who for years have served the family and worked the land. Kenya’s political climate is growing more unsettled by the day, with the Africans pushing back against colonial control.
But most frightening of all is the rise of a secret society known as the Mau Mau that is gaining momentum as it works to unite native Kenyans to overthrow the whites. Struggling to carve out a new role in her home and her country, Rachel enters into a secret relationship, a potentially scandalous affair that forces her into a bold act of betrayal.
Rachel must decide who she is truly loyal to and realizes that nothing is simple—in love, as in conflict “the lines of right and wrong have blurred.” Her life is in imminent danger and it will take every ounce of courage she has—along with the intervention of those who love her—to survive.
Jennifer McVeigh weaves them into a haunting story that exposes the best and worst of human nature. The result is an illuminating tale of self-discovery and a vivid reminder of the resiliency of the human spirit.
Historical Angle: British Kenya’s Mau Mau Rebellion spanned eight deadly years, from 1952 to 1960. Contrary to public perception, just thirty-two European settlers died in the uprising, and another two hundred British soldiers and police were killed. In contrast, over eighteen hundred African civilians were murdered by Mau Mau and a reported twelve thousand Mau Mau rebels died, though the real figure is likely closer to twenty thousand. More than one thousand Kikuyu men were executed for Mau Mau offenses, far more than the 346 convicted murderers. It remains the largest scale state execution in the history of British imperialism.
About the Author: Jennifer McVeigh graduated from Oxford University in 2002 with a degree in English literature and went on to work in film, television, radio and publishing. She left her day job to do a Masters in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and then wrote The Fever Tree. She lives in London with her husband and three children.