Beside him, Gathenji, the book's other main character, strikes the reader as a beacon of reason and sanity. Gathenji, whose own father had been the victim of Kenyan political assassination, befriended Kaiser and was a fellow crusader against the excesses of Moi's regime. But he was "quiet, methodical, and preferred to operate behind the scenes." After Kaiser's death, Gathenji hoped the FBI investigation would reveal the truth. But Moi succeeded in snowing the FBI, as he had so many others in the West, and Gathenji took up the task of discovering what had really happened. While achieving no definitive answer, he was able to establish that Kaiser, the devout Catholic, did not commit suicide, and was indeed killed by somebody else. Just who remains a matter of conjecture.
One man died; the other, no less brave but rather more prudent, prevailed and achieved some measure of justice for his dead friend. History swept away Moi and his crew while, Goffard notes, in Kenya today many young men are named John Kaiser after the flawed American priest who became a folk hero.
"You Will See Fire" pinpoints such ironies, but its real achievement is to let the reader feel the sadness and emotion behind them. So much about Africa feels both seductive and somehow doomed, filled with dramas proving the ultimate powerlessness of the Westerners who try to sway its destiny. Goffard's book puts us right there; it's a moving and powerful story, rigorously researched and documented through interviews and access to Gathenji and to Kaiser's letters and papers.
Rayner is the author of "A Bright and Guilty Place: Murder, Corruption, and L.A.'s Scandalous Coming of Age."