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Book Bites: 2 September

Published in the Sunday Times

Presumed Dead ***
Mason Cross, Orion, R315

The rugged northeast of rural Georgia near the Appalachian Trail is perfect murder country. Between August 2002 and October 2003 nine bodies found in the dense forest were thought to be the work of the Devil Mountain Killer. Adeline Connor, then a teenage, was one of the victims, but her body was never found. And now, 15 years later, her brother is convinced he saw her alive and well in Atlanta. Carter Blake, a man who finds missing people, is hired to come to the small town of Bethany to investigate David’s claim that his sister is not dead. Someone has something to hide and the body count mounts. Who is out there with a .38 – re-emerging from the woods to kill? A gripping read that keeps you guessing till the end. Gabrielle Bekes @gabrikwa

The Gold Diggers ****
Sue Nyathi, Macmillan, R265

Disenchanted with life in a failing Zimbabwe, a miscellany of individuals make the treacherous crossing into SA, driven by a wily dealer in human cargo. Buoyed up by their hopes of being reunited with relatives or finding lucrative employment, they head for Johannesburg, the City of Gold. They are quickly disillusioned. The city is tough and sleazy; living conditions are squalid; xenophobia is rife; and it is difficult to secure employment without the necessary documents. Tenacity and sometimes duplicity are required and some fall prey to unscrupulous beguilers. Even those who achieve success pay a high price. Nyathi’s narrative has considerable pathos and provides insight into the plight of individuals forced by circumstances to take desperate actions. Moira Lovell

Caligula *****
Simon Turney, Orion, R295

Apparently insane Roman emperors continue to enjoy exposure in contemporary fiction, and readers can have their pick of perspectives. This look at Caligula differs from most considerations of the infamous tyrant in that author Simon Turney attempts, for as long as possible, to maintain a sympathetic view of his subject. Using Caligula’s loving, loyal sister Livilla as the first-person narrator goes a long way to making this a possibility, as she’s the last person in the world willing to wish him ill. Turney’s research paints a detailed picture of the perils of life at court under Caligula’s volatile predecessor Tiberius and of most of the major incidents in Caligula’s rule, confirming that Rome, for all the glamour its historical profile suggests, was a profoundly treacherous place. Bruce Dennill @BroosDennill

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