I have fond memories of James Mclure’s Kramer and Zondi detective books set in South Africa. Reading Malla Nunn’s novel prompted me to look up Mclure and I found that he had left South Africa in the sixties. She is a worthy successor. Born in Swaziland, now living in Australia, she gives us a South African detective working in 1951 when the apartheid laws, introduced by the Nationalist Party, were beginning to cause pain and anguish.
Emmanuel Cooper is called out to investigate the murder of a white man, Captain Pretorius, an important figure in the small country town of Jacob’s Rest. Treated with suspicion by Afrikaners, Cooper persists in his enquiries even when it becomes apparent that the army’s security branch want him off the case and will do whatever is necessary to arrive at a comfortable solution to the crime. Nunn has things to say about the regime and chooses her characters accordingly: Zweigman,a Jew, and his wife, survivors of Htler’s Germany, a black policeman, Shabalala, who helps Cooper in spite of the danger to himself and Cooper, a man with a past. Gradually we learn that he was something of a hero during the war but suffers since from blinding headaches. Nunn hints at this and at a more serious mystery which could bring about his downfall.
Secret after secret comes to light and with these developments the threats to Cooper become more open and his punishment brutal.
It’s a good crime novel with a well constructed plot, a riveting background and an attractive hero.