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The Congo Venus by Matthew Head

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New York : Simon and Schuster, 1950. Hardcover. 207 pages ; 20 cm. $2.50 dust jacket with foxing to the verso. Pages are unmarked and binding is firm.


Liliane Morelli was the Congo Venus ; that is, THE CONG0 VENUS was the name of a painting, and the gossips in the town whispered that she must have posed for it. Certainly the beautiful head was unmistakably Liliane's. They whispered because the portrait was a nude, and because it had been painted by that not quite respectable Dr. Gollmer.

The whispers became a roar of scandal when Liliane Morelli died of an illness from which she should have recovered. Her doctor?—the disreputable Gollmer, and, by her own insistence. He was accused of gross negligence, of drunkenness, of lechery, of black magic, of too much friendliness with the natives, of every sin most shocking to the bourgeois white population of Léopoldville. Nobody accused him of murder.

In fact, murder wasn't mentioned until Dr. Mary Finney began an investigation on behalf of her fellow practitioner. At once, curious facts about Liliane and her family began to appear. Had she really been guilty of the infidelities over which the town smacked its lips? How had this reputation affected her husband, a highly respectable government official? What did her stepdaughter Jeanne think of her? And wasn't it an odd household, in which the sister of Morelli's first wife lived and ruled?

Mary Finney, Kansas spinster, who had spent most of her life working as a missionary doctor in the Congo, came to the problem of Liliane's death without prejudice. She made it her business to find out what had happened before that death, and why it was the inevitable climax to a festering situation.

As in earlier books, the author explores the vivid and unconventional Congo scene, with its sharp contrasts, its unknown terrors, and its peculiar effects on a small, isolated, uneasy white population. It is a background that furnishes the perfect setting for this story of the terrible violence that can skulk behind respectability.

About The Author
MATTHEW HEAD is the literary pseudonym of John Canaday. The reason for the double identity is a double career, since the author is also an Associate Professor of Art and Architecture. He received his Bachelor's degree from the University of Texas and studied painting and art history for his graduate degree from Yale University. During the war he again did double duty. First he served in a civilian capacity for the Government program in connection with the development and procurement of strategic commodities in Africa. Later he served as an aviation ground-offcer with a radar squadron of the Marines.