Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung
This city of blood is Johannesburg. It is also a city of haves and have nots, of wannabes and also-rans, of those who are heroes and those who are villains and those many who just want to get by.
Siphiwe, the teenage orphan who narrates alternate chapters of M D VIllier’s first novel, who was once on the edges of the criminal syndicates and managed to escape them after his brother was murdered, finds himself witnessing another act of violence in the street as an elderly fruit seller is stabbed. She survives. Siphiwe knows that that was the intention of her attacker: the attack was a message to her son.
Former Jozi gangster number one Letswe is back in town and intending to collect everything he is owed. Letswe also feels is entitled to reclaim his position on the top of the dunghill of Jozi crime, but he has a rival. In fact, all the Jozi criminals have rivals because the Nigerians are moving in, already controlling parts of the city, and Abaju is their number one.
Knowing the consequences Siphiwe is dubious about helping the police. In a spaghetti western he would be one of the cautious peons who need a gringo to fight for them, probably, but City Of Blood is not a western, and Siphiwe, in an unexpected and interesting way, turns the tables on the villains, merging occasionally from his garden at the orphanage to move things along.
He is helped by the nature of all criminals and their hangers-on, and though you might not realise that the desire to open a chain of hairdressers is expressive of criminal intent, nevertheless events prove that it can be and it becomes a major element in the story. He also finds that he can help the police and in another reversal the conversations of Siphiwe and white detective Adrian (who seems to lack a surname, although it would probably be Afrikaans if I could find it) reveal the lad to be the greater intellectual of the two.
City Of Blood is a fascinating look at a city that is little more than a disaster with a civil service on top. Siphiwe ends by walking out into the country. We may not see him again but I suspect that this city holds many other stories and that M D Villers will be telling them.