This debut is written by an Astralian author, born in South Africa.
The setting is South Africa of the 1950s, a country marred by rigid race laws and strict hierarchies, making police work an intricate act of balance.
The story begins when Willem Pretorius, Afrikaner and police captain, is shot. He belongs to the leading family of the local community so the write detective Cooper knows how important it is to find the killer – at least if the perpetrator is not someone who belongs to ´volk´ in the eyes of his temperamental sons.
“The younger brothers nodded a greeting, wary of the city detective in the pressed suit and green-striped tie. In Jo´burg he looked smart and professional. On the veldt with men who smelled of dirt and diesel fuel he was out of place.”
Even among the police force the hierarchy is strict. From bottom to top: Shabalala, half-Zulu and half Shangaan – an intelligent man who is excellent at reading a crime scene. Hansi Hepple, the naive Afrikaner, Emmanuel Cooper, the white detective from Johannesburg, and above him, the security branch who do what they can to take over the case when it seems that the motive was political.
Even though I enjoyed the environment and the characters, I read the four hundred pages very slowly. As I could only snatch a chapter in between work, it took a lot of time to keep track of all the layers of the South African society. Besides, I think the depiction of the Apartheid-ridden society is the best part of the book while the murder plot struck me as less engaging.
Maxine sent me the book which was an excellent choice for the 2010 Global Reading Challenge (South Africa).