were all enjoyable, but Hakan Nesser’s intriguing police procedural with Ewa Moreno as the main character was my pick of the month.
Archive for the ‘South Africa’ Category
Jade is hired by wealthy futures trader and base jumper Vincent Theron to investigate the fatal fall of his parachuting partner Sonet Meintjies from the 68 storey Sandton Views skyscraper. Sonet had worked for a charity helping indigenous people to establish farming projects. As Jade investigates she discovers Sonet’s obnoxious ex-husband Van Schalkwyk had lost his farm in a land claim to the Siyabonga tribe, and has leaflets scattered in his house from the “Boere Krisis Kommando”. But the Siyabonga tribe seem to have disappeared and their farming commune is barren and deserted. When Jade starts to return to Johannesburg, her tyres are slashed and as she begins to search for Sonet’s siblings she is involved in shootings, car chases, and a brutal murder.
Meanwhile Ntombi Khumalo, whose husband has died of cancer, is being forced by her employer to act as chauffeur to a vicious killer, because he has threatened her son little Khumalo.
Pales Horses covers all of the essentials of good crime thrillers; it is exciting, has good characters, an intriguing plot, a good deal of social commentary, and a fine sense of place. The atmosphere of modern post apartheid South Africa is evoked on many levels, but especially with the contrasts between the wealthy shopping and business district of Sandton, Johannesburg, and the harsh bleak poverty of rural South Africa.
In less than three hundred pages Jassy Mackenzie introduces the reader to some of the Rainbow Nation’s many problems, corruption, racism, land reform, the vast gulf between rich and poor, and the seemingly ever present violence. Amusingly Jade’s ex-lover Police Superintendent David Patel has difficulty sleeping on the Cape Province coast because it is too quiet. He is so used to the noise of sirens and gunfire in Johannesburg, a city whose prosperous suburbs feature security gates, high walls, razor wire and guns.
Jade de Jong is a feisty female protagonist, well suited to her environment, much more VI Warshawski than Miss Marple; and her relationship with David Patel, who has his own personal problems, is one of the interesting sub-plots. Ntombi Khumalo in her perilous situation dreams of being a professional chef, and distracts herself, and interests the reader, by thinking about her menus while driving around with a brutal killer. The reader is given two female protagonists in a genre that usually features men, because this is an out and out thriller, and one which stands up well to a comparison with the better known books of Deon Meyer. But most importantly Jassy’s characters are people you want to follow into the future, and see how their lives develop. Pale Horses is an excellent addition to the ever expanding sub genre of South African crime fiction, and I shall look out for number five in the series.
I received my advanced uncopyedited from the publishers Soho Press. Jassy Mackenzie was born in what was then Rhodesia, and moved to South Africa when she was eight years old. The three previous Jade de Jong novels are, Random Violence, Stolen Lives and The Fallen.
Deon Meyer has put South African crime fiction on the map. I read Seven Days in September during my break from blogging, so I thought I should say a bit more about a book that should be a contender for the 2013 International Dagger.
Seven Days is a clever blend of an Agatha Christie detective novel and a Frederick Forsyth thriller, with the carefully dropped clues [which I missed] and all the explicit detail of a gripping thriller. Hanneke Sloet, a beautiful young corporate lawyer , has been stabbed in her new luxury apartment. No one has been brought to justice and then a sniper starts shooting policemen, and the authorities receive messages with a religious slant about a cover up and corruption in the Sloet case. The sniper will continue to shoot a policeman every day until the “communist” is brought to justice for Hanneke’s murder.
Ecclesiastes 3: To every thing there is a time.
Verse 3: A time to kill, and a time to heal, a time to break down, and a time to build up.
Verse 8: a time of war, and a time of peace.
The investigation will be split between recovering alcoholic Benny Griessel, who will deal with the murder of Hanneke Sloet, and feisty Captain Mbali Kaleni who will hunt down the shooter. Along the way there are several sub-plots; Benny’s relationship with his new love interest singer Alexa Barnard, the politics of the rainbow nation, Black Economic Empowerment, the ambition and subsequent problems of Hanneke Sloet, a woman who was lovely and knew it, and policing in post apartheid South Africa.
What do you do if a member of parliament calls you up and says,’Help out a little’? You are coloured, but still not black enough for affirmative action, you have a wife and children, a mortgage on your house.
Seven Days is one of the best books I have read this year, because as well as the tension and thrills you learn so much about a very complex country. What makes a pleasant change from some authors from the Northern Hemisphere is that Meyer very rarely moralises, he just tells it like it is and leaves his readers to make up their own minds. Deon Meyer is an author on my must read list, and Seven Days keeps up the standard set in his previous books. [There is an excellent glossary of Afrikaans, Xhosa and Zulu words and other explanations at the end of the book]
‘Hayi,’ said Mbali, and her tongue clicked through the room. ‘Mama? Is that how you address an officer?’
He focused on her, astonished, saw the identity card round her neck, screwed up his eyes to decipher it. Only then did he spring to his feet, still holding the magazine. ‘Uxolo, Captain,’, he said and saluted.
‘Do not speak Xhosa to me.’
The Dark Valley: Valerio Varesi translator Joseph Farrell
This is the official CWA International Dagger Shortlist of which I have now read five out of the six. I am not going to read The Dark Valley as I don’t think it is a contender based on Maxine of Petrona’s excellent review, and my own reading of the first book in the series, River of Shadows.
Of the remaining five books I really enjoyed I Will Have Vengeance, which is also shortlisted for the Ellis Peters Historical Award, and was pleasantly surprised it was shortlisted for the International Dagger. My own personal interests in Italian opera and Italian history [and Italian food] were obviously shared by the judges.
The Potter’s Field is the best and funniest offering from Andrea Camilleri in the Montalbano series for some time, and perhaps a good outside bet.
Phantom seems to have a big following in the Eurocrime polls, but I was a little disappointed with this one. It lacked the cleverly intertwined plot of Trackers, or the atmospheric feeling and tension of Until Thy Wrath Be Past. I may well be in a minority of one on this, but I will be shocked if a brilliant book like Trackers does not get the recognition and the award it deserves. The result will be announced on the 7 July 2012, along with the Ellis Peters Historical Award. [more on that later in the month]
I discovered this meme at Bernadette’s Reactions to Reading and have decided to expand it a little as choosing just one book is tricky in some categories.
The difficulty in choosing a best book even when you read only 19 originally written in English is remembering the impact a book you read in January or February had on you in comparison with one you read two weeks ago. But I would vote for:
2] Best Books of 2011 translated into English
I read some brilliant translated fiction this year.We are so lucky to have at this time a group of superb translators able to bring these books to an English readership.
3] Worst Book of 2011
Most authors regard their books like children, and get very upset at negative reviews. Therefore as part of my New Year resolution to be kinder to everyone, except useless politicians and biased journalists, I am not going to select a book in this category.
4] Most disappointing books
There were a couple that fitted that category.
The Troubled Man-Henning Mankell: which was very depressing to read if you were a man of a certain age facing some of the problems Wallander does in the book. Actually he is younger than me! Was Henning Mankell suffering a Conan Doyle moment with his popular protagonist? It seemed like it.
River of Shadows-Valerio Varesi: I expected a more appealing protagonist, Soneri was dull and the plot development was catatonic.
5] Most surprising in a good way
Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter was so hyped and had won the CWA Gold Dagger and also been nominated for an Edgar that I was very surprised when it was in fact very good. I rarely agree with prize judges, with the exception of two who weren’t involved in these awards, so it was indeed a pleasant surprise to enjoy this book so much.
6] Book you recommended to people most
The book I recommended to people during the year was Nemesis by Jo Nesbo translated by Don Bartlett. Several people I know had started with The Redbreast and found the WWII backstory heavy going, and I encouraged them to continue with the series as Nemesis and The Devil’s Star are in my opinion still among the best Nordic crime fiction I have read.
This is a difficult one because I think usually you need to read two or three books to discover a series which you are going to stick with through to the end. I have already “discovered” several great series in previous years, which of course I carried on reading this year. Hakan Nesser’s idiosyncratic Van Veeteren stories, Leighton Gage’s Mario Silva and the Brazilian Federal police investigations, Rebecca Cantrell’s Hannah Vogel in pre-war Germany series, John Lawton’s social history of England Troy series, Donna Leon’s Brunettis, Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano mysteries, Ernesto Mallo’s Inspector Lascano’s struggles in Argentina, Fred Vargas and her Inspector Adamsberg, Asa Larsson and her Rebecka Martinssson cases, Jo Nesbo and Harry Hole, Martin Edwards and Hannah Scarlett, Aly Monroe’s Peter Cotton …….the list goes on and on.
I hope the publishers arrange for both these series to get translated in a timely fashion, and the correct order, because they could prove the next big thing in Nordic crime fiction.
[To be continued]
It may seem premature to think about the contenders for this award, but my fellow bloggers are well advanced in reviewing books that are setting a high standard for the 2012 short list. Even I, at my slower reading pace, have read one and half really brilliant books that should challenge for that short list.
These are Trackers by Deon Meyer translated from the Afrikaans by Laura Seeger, and thanks to Maxine of Petrona an ARC of The Unlucky Lottery by Hakan Nesser, translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson, which although I am only half way in has had me laughing out loud at the author’s irreverent treatment of the standard police procedural.
The main contenders will probably be books from authors who have won, or at least been nominated previously, but from my sneak peeks at other bloggers reviews, and opinions, there may be some dark horses.
You can visit Karen’s encyclopedic Euro Crime website for a full list of the eligible books, but I am going to select just a dozen hopefuls and see how close I can get to next year’s short list. At this stage most of this will be pure guess work as I haven’t read eleven and a half of the novels yet.
Trackers: Deon Meyer [South Africa]
The Unlucky Lottery: Hakan Nesser [Sweden]
Outrage: Arnaldur Indridason [Iceland]
The Quarry: Johan Theorin [Sweden]
The Boy in the Suitcase: Lene Kaaberbol & Agnete Friis [Denmark]
Until Thy Wrath Be Past: Asa Larsson [Sweden]
Dregs: Jorn Lier Horst [Norway]
The Bat Man: Jo Nesbo [Norway]
Sweet Money: Ernesto Mallo [Argentina]
Temporary Perfections: Gianrico Carofiglio [Italy]
Last Will: Liza Marklund [Sweden]
Disgrace: Jussi Adler-Olsen [Denmark]
These fairly wild guesses are a first draft, and as I read through the contenders, and Karen adds more eligible titles, I will revise and modify my long list, trying eventually to predict the winner. [The photo shows some Norwegian contenders for the International Dagger]
Giving opinions about books I haven’t read and know virtually nothing about makes me feel almost like a politician or a journalist, so do feel free to criticize my selections if you have read any of these books, or even if you haven’t.
‘All Gaul is divided into three parts.’ C.Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars
I don’t know whether Deon Meyer had a classical education [says Norman failed Latin O-Level 1959] but his latest thriller Trackers is divided into three distinct parts. All the three stories are concerned with ‘tracking’ in its various forms, animal tracking, satellite tracking and a detective tracking the trail left by a missing person, and in all three the violent drug gangs that blight the country play some part.
Maxine of Petrona in her review of Trackers states that ‘I think this is the best thriller I’ve ever read’. After The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth I think this might be the best ‘three’ thrillers I have read, because the different strands of the story are almost self contained and each is worthy of a separate book. Deon Meyer’s great skill is in getting them to briefly overlap, and creating an ending that leaves you wanting to pick up and start reading a sequel right away. The translation from the original Afrikaans by Laura Seegers lets the story [stories] flow and uses just enough words from South Africa’s eleven official languages plus slang to create the right atmosphere. There is a useful glossary at the back of the book.
The first part of Trackers is the story of Milla Strachan, a forty something white woman who after years of abuse at the hands of her husband and unappreciative son, leaves home to start a fresh life. A former journalist she finds a job with a government surveillance unit unit, the P.I.A. [Presidential Intelligence Agency] writing reports on their targets. The PIA are monitoring an Islamist terror cell that appears to be about to instigate an attack. For an organization whose efficiency is damaged by internal conflicts, Milla, the runaway housewife, is an ideal recruit:
‘I mean, look at us. The rest of the Agency is a model of affirmative action, a perfect reflection of the Rainbow Nation, but we are all white, all over forty, and all fucked up.’
But by chance Milla meets Becker, a man on a mission, and her life gets very complicated.
The second part reintroduces the reader to Lemmer, from Blood Safari, who is recruited by local cheat and rascal Diederik Brand to help bring in a pair of valuable black rhinos from Zimbabawe. The rhinos are looked after by the beautiful Cornelia ‘Flea’ van Jaarsveld, a tracker, a “vet” and a consummate manipulator, who will accompany Lemmer on a mission that will test his survival skills. Lemmer’s dislike of rich Afrikaners produces some sharp social commentary.
‘It means they sit around eating expensive, impress the neighbours Woollies’ food in their in their huge, luxurious houses behind high walls and alarm systems, in front of their Hi-Def flat screen TVs, with a Mercedes ML, two quad bikes, a harley, and a speedboat squeezed into their triple garages, and they bitch about how bad things are in this country….’
……..’They have no culture apart from spending money and drinking………..Their forefathers at Magersfontein and Paardeberg would spin in their graves……’
The third part of the story which doesn’t start till page 347 is in my opinion the best. Matt Joubert has recently retired from the SAPS [South African Police Service] where he was Head of the Serious and Violent Crimes Unit in the Cape, and joined Jack Fischer and Associates as a Senior Security Consultant. The world of the private investigator is very different from his experience in the police. He discovers this quickly as Jack Fischer introduces Matt to his first client Tanya Flint who is searching for Danie her husband who has disappeared.
‘Now before I leave you in his very capable hands, just a few admin matters. You understand that, should we accept your case, there is a deposit payable?’
Matt investigates Danie Flint’s disappearance systematically tracking the electronic and physical signs that we all leave behind as we move through life, but he is concerned that in this new private investigator’s world charging the client for all the extras is even more important than solving the case. He also becomes very worried as the evidence mounts that Danie did not disappear voluntarily.
Deon Meyer has written a very exciting and complex thriller, with some sharply critical social commentary about the problems of the Rainbow Nation, and as a master of his craft he leaves you, even after 475 pages wanting more, and more. Trackers is one of the best thrillers I have read, and in my opinion it must surely be a contender for the 2012 CWA International Dagger.
The results are in for Crime Scraps Poll no 2, and the main conclusion is that I did not list the correct countries!
There were 36 votes cast, and very surprisingly not a single one for France [four times winner of the CWA International Dagger] or Argentina, whose Ernesto Mallo was picked by several of us as favourite for this year’s International Dagger. My excuse for not picking Ireland as one of the countries listed was that we have already had a mini hot spot there with some fine writers such as Ken Bruen, Declan Burke, Rob Kitchin, Tana French, Benjamin Black, KT McCaffrey, Adrian McKinty, Gene Kerrigan, Brian McGilloway and others producing some stimulating crime fiction. A poor excuse for a mental slip up.
The results: South Africa 8, Italy 7, Ireland 5, Australia 4, Canada 2, Spain 2, Germany 2, Greece 2, and one vote each for Eastern Europe, Scotland, New Zealand and Japan.
Thanks to everyone who voted.
South Africa 1952: Detective Emmanuel Cooper arrives in the tiny deep country town of Jacob’s Rest, near the Mozambique border, to investigate what district headquarters thought was a hoax but turns out to be the murder of local police Captain Willem Pretorius. Cooper’s investigation is complicated by the National Party’s policy of segregating people into racial groups, the Immorality Act of 1950 that criminalizes sexual relations between the races, and the status of the Pretorius family. Captain Pretorius ruled the town, and his family of five boys, with a rod of iron. Mrs Pretorius is the daughter of one of the past leaders of the Afrikaner tribe.
‘The great trek celebration,’ Hansie said.’ Captain and Mrs Pretorius took us Voortrekker Scouts on a trip to Pretoria for the ceremony. We got to throw logs into a huge fire.’
Emmanuel has psychological problems as a result of his war service, and secrets he must hide from the brutal Special Branch officers who come to Jacob’s Rest to pin the murder on a communist conspiracy. But he does get help to untangle the relationships between black, coloured, English, and Afrikaner from police constable Shabala, a half Zulu-half Shangaan, who grew up with Captain Pretorius, and the mysterious old Jew Zweigman, who runs a local store. Emmanuel faces the question of whether Pretorius is the paternalistic figure as some paint him or did he lead a double life that lead to his murder. There are some fine descriptions of the beautiful South African veldt, but the racial attitudes of the Boer Afrikaner are stated clearly in terms that were normal at that time and place, but would be very offensive today. The South Africa of 1952 comes across as a beautiful country deeply blemished by the obnoxious policy of apartheid.
Mrs Pretorius sighed. ‘There was always trouble with the coloureds; drinking and fighting, that sort of thing. They find it hard to control their emotions no matter how much white blood they have in them. Willem understood that, and tried not to be too tough with them.’
These are very different Afrikaners from those portrayed in Deon Meyer’s post apartheid novels, and sometimes the reader has to remind themselves this was 1952 and even in England these attitudes abounded at that time and for several decades after.
He didn’t put much store in Mrs Pretorius’s lecherous Shylock story: her world was populated with crafty Jews, drunken coloureds and primitive blacks. It was the standard National Party bullshit that poor Afrikaners swore by and educated Englishmen loved to mock while their own servants clipped the lawn.
There is a lot more of that sort of thing which gave the story an authentic atmosphere, and brought home to the reader the dreadful nature of the regime. I did enjoy the book although like a lot of current novels it was about 100 pages too long, and the ending wasn’t entirely convincing with a little too much melodrama. But I look forward to reading more about Emmanuel Cooper, and hopefully some of the other characters, in future books.
One of the reasons I enjoyed this book was that I wondered how the Pretorius family with their anti-Semitic attitudes, and their ideas of Afrikaner superiority, would have reacted to certain real life events. The old Jew Zweigman tells Emmanuel: ‘I did not come here on the first Trekboer wagons,
and I do not understand how or even why one would play the game of rugby.’
A little ironic because at the time the dominant figure in South African rugby during both the New Zealand All Black tour of 1949, and the tour of Europe in 1951 was Aaron ‘Okey’ Geffin, a Jew, whose parents came from Lithuania. Geffin had been captured by the Germans at Tobruk, imprisoned as a POW in Italy, escaped, sent to Germany escaped and recaptured twice, he ended up in Stalag XX-A, where he met 1928 Springbok Bill Payn. They played rugby in the camp but had no boots so Geffin, a huge man, kicked the ball in bare feet. After the war he played for Transvaal, and in the first test of the All Blacks tour kicked 5 penalties, and scored 32 out of 47 points in the South Africans 4-0 series victory over the New Zealanders. On the 1951 tour of Europe he played against Scotland, kicking 7 conversions in the 44-0 victory, and also was vital in the wins over Wales and Ireland.