AUTHOR: Malla Nunn
PUBLICATION: 2009/Atria Books (Simon & Schuster Inc), New York
ISBN # 978-1-4165-8620-3
# PAGES: 373
Discovered in a review by Mysteries in Paradise
Read in paper format
Also available in e-book format
The book opens in 1952 in South Africa, a time when new apartheid laws were being introduced yearly. Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper was in deep country, in the northwestern part of South Africa, near the Mozambique border, working on a murder case which was quickly resolved. Before he could head back to Johannesburg, his boss told him to check on another possible homicide near Jacob’s Rest. What he discovers is a white police captain, Willem Pretorius, face down in the river, shot in the head and the back. The dead man’s three huge Afrikaner sons are not happy to see one lone officer there to investigate. Cooper is not happy to be that one lone officer.
Cooper has no colour prejudices and respectfully interacts into each different local group, his command of the Zulu language a definite benefit. The local force consists of only three other officers: two white officers Constable Hansie Hepple the ineffective teenager and Lieutenant Sarel Uys, current on vacation, and the quietly competent Zulu-Shangaan tracker Constable Samuel Shabalala.
As Cooper tries to build a rapport with Shabalala, he struggles to keep his World War II nightmares at bay. When the infamous Security Branch takes over the case, determined to beat a confession out of whomever they need to pin this on, Cooper is relegated to investigating a local unsolved peeping tom case which he hopes will let him keep one foot into the murder investigation.
This was an excellent book, with interesting historical nuances running through it. The remaining effects on Cooper so recently involved in a foreign war, the separateness and connectedness of racial groups long divided physically, plus the tightening restrictions and horrific penalties of apartheid are the backdrop to a well-paced murder mystery.
Given the apparent proximity of fictional Jacob’s Rest to Lorenzo Marques (now Maputo) in Mozambique, the setting of this story appears to be very close to the border of Swaziland. This is the first novel written by Malla Nunn. She was born in Swaziland and later moved to Australia with her family. Given the setting and her background, I have chosen to list her as a Swaziland author in the Global Reading Challenge. She has since written three more books:
. Let the Dead Lie. Blessed are the Dead (alternate title: Silent Valley)
. Present Darkness