In January, 1941, the residents of the Wanjohi Valley, (known to posterity as Happy Valley), north of Nairobi, in Kenya, were shocked by the murder of Captain the Hon. Josslyn Victor Hay, 22nd Earl of Erroll, Hereditary Lord High Constable of Scotland. Lord Erroll had been shot and his body dumped in the footwell of his hired Buick car. The grim discovery was made at the crossroads on the Ngong-Nairobi road. The twice-married Erroll had been having a very public affair with Diana Broughton, the new young wife of Sir Henry John Delves Broughton. Delves Broughton was subsequently arrested for the murder, and what followed was a sensational trial which became one of the cause-celebres of the 20th century. The trial focused as much on the decadent lifestyle of the Happy Valley set as it did on the defendant and victim; following Broughton's acquittal the case remained unsolved and passed into legend.
The air of mythology surrounding Erroll's death intensified with the publication of James Fox's White Mischief in the early 1980s. This best-selling book, later turned into a hugely successful film, depicted the Happy Valley set as a glamorous yet debauched and adulterous group of people. It also implied that Delves Broughton was a jealous cuckold who was relieved of the charge of Erroll's murder simply because of his position in society. Errol Trzebinski, while making respectful allusion to Fox's work, acknowledging it as "a classic detective story", makes the salutary point that "the Wanjohi Valley settlers were not best pleased with the light in which the book portrayed their forebears". Her own piece of detection, The Life & Death of Lord Erroll, aims to set the record straight as a fresh investigative account of the Erroll murder. Trzebinski, biographer of such Kenya stalwarts as Denys Finch Hatton and Beryl Markham, is herself a resident of the country: "for six years my family and I lived where the scandal still thrived in people's memories". With access to the surviving friends and relatives of Erroll and others involved in the case, Trzebinski has, with forensic thoroughness pieced together neglected clues, to claim that the stories of high living among the Happy Valley set were a cover-up for a more serious political motive for Erroll's killing. Trzebinski outlines evidence that Erroll's murder was possibly an SOE execution, undertaken during the heightened atmosphere of World War Two to dispose of a man apparently closely connected to the British Fascist movement.
Whatever the truth behind the death of Lord Erroll, Trzebinski's research is exhaustive and the result makes for highly interesting reading. Though she aims to set the record straight about Happy Valley, the fascination for this set of people and "the darker side of exuberant living" looks certain to endure. As Trzebinski writes:"Despite the reams of material about Lord Erroll's murder, the elementary question still begs to be answered: whodunnit?" --Catherine Taylor --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Book ID 792