Filmmaker Nigel Jackland has come to northern Nigeria to work on a new project: a documentary based on the personal diary entries of his mother. Sixty years have passed since Betty Jackland first accompanied her husband, Ted, to this colonial African backwater, resolving to be a perfect helpmate and wife to Britain’s district officer in the emirate of Kiti.
But Betty’s fascination with the local Kitawa tribe, innate sense of justice, and irrepressibly independent spirit mean she could never turn a blind eye to the suffering of oppressed women—particularly the abused wives of the ruling emir. She never imagined that her strong words and actions could have violent consequences in the shadow of Tefuga Hill—or that the echoes of the tragedy would resound dangerously in the life of her own son many years on.
Linking two stories separated by more than half a century and relating them in alternating chapters, Tefuga is an enthralling, evocative, and suspenseful tale of corruption, imperialism, race, and murder. A master of both style and substance, Dickinson brilliantly re-creates times and places in stunning detail, transporting readers to an Africa so remarkably realistic they can almost feel the equatorial winds on their faces.
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About the Author
The author of twenty-one crime and mystery novels for adults, Dickinson was the first to win the Gold Dagger Award of the Crime Writers’ Association for two books running: The Glass-Sided Ants Nest (1968) and The Old English Peepshow (1969). Dickinson was shortlisted nine times for the prestigious Carnegie Medal for children’s literature and was the first author to win it twice.
Dickinson served as chairman of the Society of Authors and was a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2009 for services to literature. Peter Dickinson died on December 16, 2015, at the age of eighty-eight.
Peter Dickinson was born in Africa but raised and educated in England. From 1952 to 1969 he was on the editorial staff of Punch, and since then has earned his living writing fiction of various kinds for children and adults. His books have been published in several languages throughout the world.
The recipient of many awards, Dickinson has been shortlisted nine times for the prestigious Carnegie Medal for children’s literature and was the first author to win it twice. The author of twenty-one crime and mystery novels for adults, Dickinson was also the first to win the Gold Dagger of the Crime Writers’ Association for two books running: The Glass-Sided Ants’ Nest (1968) and The Old English Peepshow (1969).
A collection of Dickinson’s poetry, The Weir, was published in 2007. His latest book, In the Palace of the Khans, was published in 2012 and was nominated for the Carnegie Medal.
Dickinson has served as chairman of the Society of Authors and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2009 for services to literature.
Read an Excerpt
A Novel of Suspense
By Peter Dickinson
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1986 Peter Dickinson
All rights reserved.
The naked fisherman flung his net, and posed, one arm aloft. His blackness, silhouetted against the light reflected from the silky river surface, seemed featureless, flat, incomprehensible. But the net floated in the three dimensions of air, transparent as a jellyfish in its wave, then fell. As it made its rippling pattern across the water Jackland began to speak.
"This, literally, is where I began," he said. "A cell dividing in a womb. An unwelcome surprise to all concerned."
As he spoke the camera swung from the fisherman, lingered for a moment on Jackland's well-known profile—weathered but still just short of haggard—and then on to allow the eventual audience to share in the scene Jackland himself was looking at, a broad mound of reddish earth in a clearing ringed by drab trees. The earth was mostly bare, but mottled with patches of a coarse tufted grass, and down one flank of the mound was a cultivated patch, its well-hoed rows of strong green growth contrasting oddly with the dereliction of the building on top of the mound. This was a complex structure, patched and botched over the years, its walls part mud, part breeze-block and its roof an uneven assemblage of corrugated iron and cane thatch. Black pullets scratched around. A goat with a bald rump was tethered to a stake. An African with a thin grey beard posed in the doorway, wearing an embroidered brown and yellow robe, a loose turban of the same colours, and blue track shoes.
"This is the remains of The Warren," said Jackland. "My father had it built for my mother when he was District Officer at Kiti in Northern Nigeria and she came out to join him late in 1923. They had met and married on his last leave. The gentleman you see by the door was their houseboy, Elongo. He is now Sarkin Kiti, spiritual leader of the Kitawa and a major figure in Nigerian politics. He does not, of course, live here, but at his palace in Kiti town, three miles up stream.
"The programme you are about to watch is presented as fiction, with actors in the roles of my parents, the young Elongo, and other characters such as the then Sarkin Kiti, one Kama Boi. But it is as close to the truth as I have been able to get, or guess, being based on my mother's private diary, supported by the records of the British administration at Kaduna. It is not an attack on that administration, still less a defence of it. The British tribe who ruled Nigeria for some sixty years practised rituals and revered fetishes as bizarre to me as those of any of the peoples they governed. It is impossible for me to avoid reflecting on the nature of colonial rule, but I would submit that the story you are about to watch illustrates aspects of our inward nature far more enduring, far more profound in their effects for both good and ill, than any empire that ever ruled.
"I make no claims for the story because it is of relevance to myself. It is not. Though in those days it was sometimes possible for the wives of colonial officers to join their husbands on station in Nigeria, it was wholly forbidden for them to indulge in what the Book of Common Prayer had, at their marriage ceremony, described as the chief object of their union. My mother's pregnancy was a decree of banishment, a ukase as unappealable as that of a despot. She never saw my father again. I never saw him at all."
Jackland turned from the camera and looked downstream. In front of him the scene was empty, with only the broad, smooth river curving away as it had done for centuries. The modern human clutter was all behind him, the camera crews and production team, and then a rough arc of spectators, local Nigerians, the men wearing shirts and trousers or shorts and the women gaudier blouses with long wrap-around skirts. While Jackland had been speaking they had managed to remain quiet, influenced probably less by the shushings of production assistants than by Jackland himself, the harshly ringing tone, the elaborate roll of sentences, the hard and furrowed features, deep eyes under bony brows, voice and face moulded for the denunciation of vices in this or any other age. The crowd were presumably mostly Muslims, but even the few remaining animists would have recognized the authority of the hieratic mode.
"Cut," said Burn. "Christ, you'd think it might be starting to cool off a wee bit. Who told us it would be like Bournemouth this time of year?"
Jackland relaxed. A touch of flabbiness softened the many-folded skin. The crowd saw that the ceremony was over and started to chatter, argue, tease the fisherman who was coming up the slope, fully clothed and grinning with self-deprecation because lack of recent practice at his craft had caused him to make half a dozen bosh shots before producing a net-throw worth photographing. Burn, a chubby and fretful figure made clownlike by the combination of peeling pink skin, large sunglasses, ginger moustache and broad-brimmed bushwhacker's hat, turned to Jackland.
"Two mins forty," he said. "We are really going to have to lose some of that, Nigel."
Jackland took his own sun-glasses from his shirt pocket, polished them and put them on.
"Let's wait and see, old man," he said.
Burn nodded, turned, and began to give orders.
"Clear those laddies right up the slope now, Brian. Sally, get on to Trevor and tell him to start the canoes off in five minutes. You, er, Jalo, get those extras stripped off. No clothes, only grass belts. No wristwatches, right? Get cracking, everyone. The light isn't going to last. Fred ..."
Jackland turned away and strolled up towards the hut, taking a cigarette out as he went and offering one to Sarkin Elongo when he reached him. The Sarkin took the whole pack and held it into the doorway. Immediately, like the feelers of a sea anemone closing round an edible scrap, hands—dark-skinned, pale-palmed—came out of the shadows and plucked at the pack. The Sarkin took a cigarette for himself and handed the pack back to Jackland, almost empty. Jackland flicked a lighter and lit for the pair of them.
"What happens now, Mr Jackland?" said the Sarkin. "May I put my sun-glasses on?"
His voice was deep and soft, his speech slow, with hardly a trace of Nigerian usage. Even quite trivial remarks, such as this, seemed to vibrate with biblical undertones. Close up he appeared at least a decade younger than he had from a distance, or than Jackland's account of his past declared him to be. Some of the apparent wrinklings on the dark brown skin turned out to be tribal scars, a triple row above the outer corners of the eyes which gave the whole countenance a look of mild bewilderment. Until very recently all male Kitawa bore these marks. That, and the tribe's primitive lifestyle, had often deceived strangers into thinking them simple.
"Of course, Sarkin," said Jackland. "And your chaps can come out from there if they want. Hell of a lot of waiting around always, but we've got a bit of a rush on now to catch the sunset. When they're set up I'm going to go and watch the river with the camera looking over my shoulder. Later we'll fool around with the film a bit so that as the canoes come up I fade away. Just a gimmick for taking the audience back in time. The canoes come in to the jetty, the actors playing my parents land, the lad playing you greets them. That'll be about it for today. Tomorrow morning we'll do my mother's departure while the mist's still on the river, and then we'll come along to Kiti to do the shots of the Old Palace and the ferry. Couple of days of that and if we don't make the standard balls-up of something we should be able to clear off and trouble you no more."
"You are not going out to Tefuga?"
"Wish we could. I wish we could have done the whole thing here, because that's my natural instinct."
"I do not understand how you can come all this way and film so little. When you first came to consult me you said ..."
"I know I did, Sarkin, and I wish we'd been able to do it that way, but the cost accountants ruled it out. It is axiomatic in this trade that the fake is cheaper than the real. You have studios which you are paying for in any case so you use them if you can. Then there is the paradox that although the centres of what passes for civilization are where the cost of living is highest, the further you get from them the more things cost. We're only up here at all because Miss Tressider refused to spend Christmas in England, which under the terms of her contract we could have insisted on, and I was able to resolve the dilemma by suggesting we bring a unit up to Kiti and spend the festive season filming her doing my mother's entrance to the Old Palace. And now, while we are here, we might as well lend a spurious authenticity to the whole enterprise by filming my mother's arrival and departure on the veritable site and letting the audience see what has become of the veritable Warren, and so on. Such is the suggestive power of the camera that everything else will seem to be taking place between those two points in time, though actually they have already been shot, most of them, in London and down south in Ilorin. For my sins I have been a professional journalist all my life, and I have the journalist's obsession with authenticity. Now it turns out that the only authentic parts of my film are in it as the byproduct of a woman's whim."
"It would have pleased me greatly if my grandson could have played my part. He is almost the right age."
"Too late, Sarkin. We'd already shot most of his scenes before you mentioned the possibility. Matter of fact, I'm not too keen on Piers Smith playing my father, but we were stuck with him for reasons beyond my control. We are all, don't you think, animalcules in the digestion of some great mindless beast which is not even aware of our existence, but pumps us around its organs regardless of our wishes or feelings and eventually with a sigh of relief excretes us into the grave."
It was a characteristic of Jackland's conversation that it flickered between his public and private style. Without apparent gear-change, slapdash mumblings would transmute to the shaped and orotund, most likely a far-fetched metaphor concerning one of the great themes of philosophy. Sometimes this would be a scrap of an old script—he was not the man to waste a good thing by saying it only once—but just as likely he had thought it up as he spoke.
The Sarkin smiled. "Into Independence, in the case of Nigeria," he said. "You describe your colonial administration very well."
"It was never mine. I take no responsibility."
"A big stomach and a small brain. Fewer than five hundred officers ruling all our millions."
"After a fashion. Oh, looks as if we're ready for the next bit. Sorry about your grandson. But I'll remember him in case anything comes up. You never know."
The Sarkin smiled with unreadable charm. Jackland nodded to him and loped down towards the bank. The old man was highly intelligent and must have known his grandson was impossible for the part, too young and a sulky-looking slob, quite incapable of portraying the youth described so enthusiastically in the diary. In the Sarkin's mind, perhaps, the spoiling of the whole enterprise by his inclusion would have been secondary to the increase of prestige and cash to the family.
As the canoes came up the river the watchers chattered and argued. The production team made no effort to quiet them. The sound-track for this sequence was to be dubbed on later, birdcalls and river noises, snatches of chants and drumming, and Mary Tressider's voice reading from Betty Jackland's letters describing her journey to join her new husband. The five canoes, despite keeping out of the main current, made slow progress. The river, shrunken since the rains but still immense by European standards, ran from the west and curved away south, with the remains of The Warren standing on the inside of the curve and looking across the water to the monotonous dingy trees of the far bank. When the canoes were still a couple of hundred yards away the slow-moving scene was startled by a cry. It came from Malcolm Burn.
"Cut!" he yelled. "Oh, Jesus bloody Christ, what's Trevor up to not stopping that boat!"
From where the curve of the bank had concealed the starting-point of the canoes a launch came creaming into sight. The mutter of the crowd changed note. Some of them started to walk away. Jalo, the interpreter, was arguing with one of the naked extras who wanted to dress and join the defectors. Though the river, as if resting after the turbulence of the rapids at Kiti, seemed from the shore to be moving all of a piece in glassy calm, the canoes had been keeping close to the bank to avoid what was in fact the much stronger current at the centre. The launch, despite its fairly powerful engine, chose the same path and drove past only twenty yards to their right, rocking them vigorously with its wake.
"Sods," said Burn. "Brian, take one of the trucks and bomb up and meet them when they land. Find out who they are. Sally, get on to Trevor and ..."
"They're coming here," said Jackland.
The launch had curved out but was swinging back towards the landing-stage. By now it could be seen that four of the occupants, Africans, wore khaki. The fifth was a white man in a mauve shirt and a floppy straw hat.
"Forget about Trevor," called Burn. "They've brought him along. I might have known the bloody police ..."
"Army, I think," said Jackland.
"They're going to make a balls of it, whoever," said Burn. "Christ, look at that. Serve the buggers right."
The driver of the launch had evidently not realized that the landing-stage had been built for the purposes of the film on a projecting shelf just below water level. In a fortnight's time it would be high and dry, and already it would barely take the shallow draught of the canoes. He had intended a snappy manoeuvre and so approached much too fast and rammed his keel well into the mud, the launch stopping with uncanny abruptness a few yards short of the bank. He then tried to force his way in, thus grounding himself so firmly that he was unable to reverse out. The man beside him stood up, gripping the windscreen. Thus seen he was clearly an army officer, with a very black lean face under the smart cap. He studied the gap between himself and the shore, then spoke to the driver; the uselessly churning propeller stopped at last. The officer turned and gave orders to one of the men in the back, who rose with obvious reluctance, scrambled to the prow, lowered himself into the river and paddled ashore, holding his automatic rifle well above his head as though wading neck-deep; in fact the water barely covered his boots. More of the onlookers began to drift away.
The soldier squelched up the bank, studied the half-dozen naked extras and prodded his gun-barrel against the chest of one of them. Without word or gesture the man walked down into the water, stood with his buttocks against the side of the launch to let the officer climb on to his shoulders and ferried him ashore. The officer slid to the ground and flicked long thin fingers at his uniform where he had made contact with his bearer. He turned, unsmiling, as Burn went strutting down to confront him.
"What the hell do you think you're up to?" said Burn. "Can't you see we're trying to shoot a film? We'll miss the sunset thanks to your assing around. And coming so close to the canoes—you did that on purpose."
"You in charge of this outfit, Mr ...?"
"Burn. Malcolm Burn. And I want to know your name because I'm going to report your behaviour to your superiors. It was criminally dangerous passing so close to the canoes. I've got plenty of witnesses."
"My name is Major Kadu. I am sure my superiors will be interested by what you have to say. Now to business. The civilian in my launch tells me that he is one of this your team."
"Trevor Fish. Yes."
"He is under arrest."
"What the hell for?"
"Impeding a detachment of the Nigerian Army in the course of its duties."
Burn twitched his head towards the launch where the man in the mauve shirt, less cramped now that one of his guards had left, was lolling on the back bench and talking to the other guard, who was responding with white-toothed laughter.
"Better get him out of there PDQ, Malc," called one of the cameramen. "They'll be doing him for seducing a soldier on active service."
Several of the team laughed—it was a new variant on a standing joke. Burn puffed out scarlet cheeks and bristled his moustache.
Excerpted from Tefuga by Peter Dickinson. Copyright © 1986 Peter Dickinson. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Inspector Pibble is caught up in a slightly amusing predicament: there's been an appartent suicide at an English version of Colonial Williamsburg. His assignment is to certify it as a suicide and let the very upper-crust family running the "show" go back to business. As usual in mysteries, all is not what it seems.This convoluted tale is unsatisfying. The characters are stock types and, with a single exception, are poorly developed. The plot resloution is scarcely believable. This is a disappointment from a normally superior author. A few funny bits here and there lighten the load somewhat.