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Book Bites: 10 April 2016

Published in the Sunday Times

The Theory of DeathThe Theory of Death
Faye Kellerman (Harper Collins)
****
Book thrill
The Kellerman writing dynasty – wife Faye, husband Jonathan, son Jesse – seems to pop out a new novel every alternate month, with consistent quality. This offering, featuring the sleuthing duo of Detective Peter Decker and his religious wife, Rina Lazarus, is a slowly unfolding mystery set in the college town of Greenbury in upstate New York, where they investigate the apparent suicide of a Mennonite student and the murder of one of his professors. Kellerman seems to delight in splattering the blood and gore against a backdrop of arcane knowledge, whether it’s the higher realms of mathematics, or the intricacies of fundamentalist belief systems. Despite the abundance of religious references, the writing is never cloying and always literate and entertaining. – William Saunderson-Meyer @TheJaundicedEye

nullSouth Africa at the Olympic Games 1904-2012Lappe Laubscher and Wessel Oosthuizen (Laubscher & Oosthuizen)
****
Book buff
With the 2016 Rio Games coming up in August, it seems timeous to ask some trivia questions, such as: Who were the first ever athletes to represent South Africa at the Olympic Games? They were Len Tau and Jan Mashiane, who were accidental entrants at the 1904 Games in St Louis. They had attended the World Fair in the Missouri city as part of Anglo-Boer War commander Piet Cronje’s travelling road show, and they were drafted in as competitors. Tau finished ninth and Mashiani, who competed barefoot, ended further back. It would be more than 80 years later when black athletes would represent SA at an Olympics again in 1992. SA at the Olympics combines these and other historical anecdotes with a collection of photos. – David Isaacson @David_Isaacson

The ChimesThe Chimes
Anna Smaill (Sceptre Books)
*****
Book buff
This inventive debut is set in a world where music is the only form of communication – and memory only lasts for a day. Every day in dystopian London is the same as the one before, ending with Chimes, a musical ritual where the Carillon, a large instrument, wipes away all memories. Everyone lives in perfect harmony, or so the Order would have them believe, until the protagonist Simon starts to remember a world before the Order burned books and replaced words with notes. The Chimes is a testament to Smaill’s artistry as a musician, poet and novelist. She brilliantly blends her knowledge of classical music with language. – Annetjie van Wynegaard @Annetjievw

The BallroomThe Ballroom
Anna Hope (Doubleday)
***
Book fling
After the poised, emotional flair of Wake, Anna Hope’s post-WWI novel, her second outing is somewhat disappointing. Set in an asylum on the Yorkshire moors in 1911, it tells the story of the love affair between two inmates. Ella, a working-class mill girl is incarcerated when she breaks a factory window out of frustration. John is an Irish labourer hospitalised for depression. Overseeing them is Dr Charles Fuller, a troubled man who drifts dangerously close to madness himself when he becomes obsessed by eugenics and John. The predictable plot descends into melodrama at times as the author works hard at winning our sympathy. Still, it is interesting to learn that Winston Churchill supported the eugenics movement and the compulsory sterilisation of the “feeble-minded”. – Michele Magwood @michelemagwood

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