Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"Everything is beautiful, in its own way" Old song

A novel set in South Africa, at a time when feelings of apartheid were prominent.

It is 1952 and new apartheid laws have gone into effect separating white from black and mixed race people. Detective Emmanuel Cooper an Englishman who had fought in the war, was nearby on another case and is summoned to the scene of a murder.

There were few phones in this outlying town of Jacob's Rest, a small town on the border of Mozambique and South Africa. When Cooper asks a local constible if he called the Detective Branch in, he's told that the officer couldn't get a line direct to headquarters.

Cooper is shown to the scene where he sees the body of a white police captain. The murdered man was Captain Pretorius and three of his sons are standing by. They are furious that the detective division only sent one man, to investigate the death of a murdered police captain. Cooper tries to calm them down, saying that the information was unclear and they hadn't been informed of the victim's race, sex or occupation.

Cooper also meets Constable Samuel Shabalala. Shabalala is a tall, powerful man and Cooper can see that he is the one who would probably know the most but since Shabalala is black, he had to wait until he was called forward to the murder scene.

The story goes from there. When Cooper calls into his boss and asks for reinforcements he's informed that there aren't any. In fact, the powerful Security Branch is on its way and will be taking the case over. However, they are goal minded to flush out any black communist radicals and look for political solutions. Cooper is instructed to be his Superior's eyes in the field and continue his own investigation and find the murderer regardless of political expediency.

As Cooper investigates the case, he finds that in the last few years there was a person molesting young women but the case was never solved. Captain Pretorius had worked on that case so Cooper decided to follow it up. What he finds is that Captain Pretorius had his own secrets and wasn't the ideal man that everyone thought. He had strained relationships with the black and colored residents and ruled the town with his sons, without asking for permission to take what he wanted.

Malla Nunn has written a wonderfully complex story about a time that many readers have either forgotten or never knew in detail about. Detective Cooper is well described and shows his determination, his intelligence and empathy. He is a character that this reader looks forward to seeing in print again.

Well recommended.

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