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Book Bites: 8 October 2017

Published in the Sunday Times

The Word is MurderThe Word is Murder
Anthony Horowitz, Century
Just when one thought that Sherlock Holmes (the one Benedict Cumberbatch embraced as his character in the TV series) was the most arrogant detective ever to grace popular culture, Horowitz introduces us to himself and Daniel Hawthorne – both insufferable men. Horowitz writes himself as a character in his own book, where he is called on by Hawthorne to help in a murder case. The murder to be solved is that of Diana Cowper, a wealthy woman who goes to a funeral parlour to plan her burial just hours before she is strangled. Hawthorne is brought in as the police need someone with his intelligence to solve the case. Hawthorne brings Horowitz in to write the book. It’s watery and self-indulgent, with Horowitz name-dropping celebrities like Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson. The murder story, in the end, is irrelevant. – Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

The New GirlThe New Girl: A Trans Girl Tells It Like It Is
Rhyannon Styles, Headline
This bold autobiography relates the tremendous challenges that the writer undergoes in order to embrace life as a woman. She spares no details and is candid in this honest exposé of life behind the scenes in the world of theatre and the performing arts, a place where freedom of expression and individuality is the norm. The New Girl grabs one’s attention and provides a fascinating glimpse into both the inner and outer world of a transgender person. – Penny Swisa

House of SpiesHouse of Spies
Daniel Silva, HarperCollins
Gabriel Allon, the Israeli spy, is back for his 17th book. Co-ordinated terrorist attacks in London’s West End have left hundreds dead. The attacks have all the markings of Saladin, the ISIS mastermind. Clues to the case take Allon and his team to the south of France where they must infiltrate the enemy. A complex thriller brimming with details. – Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

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“Hanover Park has a certain resonance among Capetonians” – Trade Secrets contributor, Jumani Clarke

Jumani Clarke lives in Cape Town and he is a lecturer at the University of Cape Town in the Numeracy Centre. He has published in Prufrock, and in 2015 the Short.Sharp.Stories anthology Incredible Journey with the story ‘Lift Club’ for which he was hailed as a ‘brilliant’ new voice by writer and reviewer Diane Awerbuck. Joanne Hichens, the curator of the Short.Sharp.Stories Award and Jumani recently discussed his 2017 entry for Trade Secrets, Hanover Park, and writing the bizarre:
In your story, ‘True Worth’, an audacious clothing store manager, a fashion designer, Cape Flats gangsters and more, clash in a bizarre set of circumstances… What sparked your story?

I was driving down Jan Smuts drive one day when I noticed a shopping centre under construction on the borderlands of Hanover Park, and that got me thinking, “Who would go shopping there, a place so close to the ganglands?” But the answer was clear as day, the people of Hanover Park. Certainly, the shop assistants would be from there, anyway. And then it occurred to me that for South Africans, there is no better vision of progress than a shopping centre. In a shopping centre there is order, and there is peace and there is justice. But no one expects to find these things in Hanover Park, which is infamous for being the very opposite: Gangs vying for power with guns, innocent people shot in the cross-fire, the police unable to respond. This was puzzling, but also good grounds for a story.

Certainly Hanover Park as a setting offers a world of extremes. Did you spend time in the suburb in order to ‘fashion’ your story?

I have been to Hanover Park a couple of times, but only ever to drop someone off who needed a lift. It is a strange place, another world in comparison to my own southern suburbia and yet only a few minutes’ drive separates the two outside rush-hour. On a Sunday evening in Hanover Park, children play outside, in numbers, until well after dark, even with the risks. Of course, on my short errands, I was a little concerned for myself, but no one seemed to take much notice of me.

How did you go about creating your characters, Caleisha, Penny and the cast, so that the reader could suspend disbelief and see them as ‘real people’?

I guess it is useful to have the characters encounter problems that the reader can relate to. Penelope walks in and finds that her shop has been burgled, we know what that is like in this country. Even tourists on a three day visit know what that is like. And many people know what it is like to walk into a shop and jump with fright at the prices. The fear of violent crime or working with someone who comes in late and does little work, are all very South African experiences.

“Real life and the facts that go with it get in the way of fiction,” says Jumani Clarke of researching gang culture.

As for gang culture, how did you do your research?

It was enough for me to read a few issues of the local tabloid The Voice and maybe the odd anthropology study. Certainly, there are some excellent books about, like Johnny Steinberg’s The Number. But of course, I put all that aside when it came to writing ‘True Worth’. Real life and the facts that go with it get in the way of fiction.

In your story, fashion becomes a means to establish peace – but it all backfires… Are you attempting to make a comment on society? And as an extension of that on South African violence?

Well, to be honest, I am a little surprised by your reading of the story – that is backfires. My reading of it is quite the contrary. Sure, Penelope’s project with the luxury store True Worth faces quite a setback towards the end, but she does achieve her goal. And furthermore, Hanover Park does find peace. What’s more, Caleisha gets to keep her staff discount on high end fashion items! What more could be asked for?

But I am only a little surprised by your reading, since Hanover Park has a certain resonance among Capetonians today. To utter its name conjures up fears about gangsterism, drug abuse and endemic crime. But there was a time when the name Hanover Street of the old District Six had a different resonance, one which had something to do with trade, colour, style, fanfare, and hope, but also street hustlers. But still, I would like to make a comment here in this interview about the story. Although, it all backfires as you suggest, this is how change is achieved in the story, which is very South African. Through violence, this violent country has changed for the better, time and time again. But it is not the job of the short story to make such comments. A story is a mouth, it is not the speaker.

Your story, ‘Lift Club’, published in Incredible Journey, had a similar sense of the bizarre. Do you agree that you take risks with your writing?

I am aware that people find what I have written strange. Sometimes I like to imagine that the situation would be different if more people read it or if I wrote more. But I do set out to create something new, or at least amusingly different in an interesting way. It should never be completely real or familiar, since that would be boring, but it shouldn’t strike the reader as bizarre either. In a way, I aim for something recognizably unfamiliar but also comic and heartfelt.

What writing Trade Secret would you like to share?

Productive imitation. When you read something you like, take it, just take it, take what you like most and do with it what you will. Read anything interesting, fiction or non-fiction, anything that moves you, changes your perspective of everything. And in this way, even the most mundane things become interesting to think about and that is a wonderful experience.

Trade Secrets

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2017 Nobel Prize in Literature awarded to Kazuo Ishiguro

The prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to the renowned British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro.

Ishiguro has received widespread acclaim for his novels Never Let Me Go, The Remains of the Day and The Buried Giant.

Read Michele Magwood’s interview with Ishiguro on the Buried Giant here and listen to her 2015 interview with Ishiguro here:

The Single Story Foundation Journal is launched

The editors of TSSF Journal are excited to announce the launch of its inaugural issue. Our journal is an online journal. You can read individual published pieces on our newly designed website: And, you can also read and download the entire journal too at

“The TSSF Journal is one of the new publications offering opportunities to accommodate the exploding literary culture that is sweeping the African landscape and diaspora,” Tiah Beautement, managing editor of TSSF Journal said. “We hope you enjoy the results of our team’s endeavor. ”

Our contributors include writers from Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Botswana, Somali and Britain, and Cameroon. They are Lauri Kubuitsile, Athol Williams, Efe Ogufere, Timi Odueso, Ahmad Holderness, O.J. Nwankwo, Taiye Ojo, Torinmo Salau, Fahima Hersi, Rešoketšwe Manenzhe, Helen Nde, Ané Breytenbach, Muwanwu Sikhitha, Ifeanyichukwu Eze, C.J. Nelson, and Carey Baraka.

We have gotten a lot of rave reviews about the aesthetic of our journal and we recommend you read the journal in its ready for print form.

About this issue: Wale Owoade, founder and publisher of EXPOUND Magazine said, “The design is stunning. TSSF Journal guys have done a great job and the cover is mind blowing.”

Tiah Beautement, Genna Gardini, and Tolu Daniel edited this issue. The TSSF Journal will be open for submissions for its second issue on January 2, 2018. For further information, please contact Tiah Beautement at

Flame of Truth: third book in the Afrocentric fantasy adventure series, Shadow Chasers, “scary riveting fun!”

Only the Shadow Chasers, with their magical knives, can save the world from the evil that lives in the dreamworld.

“Scary riveting fun! Escape in this magical and modern South African fantasy.” – Nonikiwe Mashologu, childhood literacy specialist

“I love the book because it’s scary and cool. Nom is a very brave girl.” – Gugulethu Machin, tweeny reader

Flame of Truth is the third in the Shadow Chasers series, an Afrocentric fantasy adventure for pre-teens (9 to 12 year olds.)

Bontle Senne is a book blogger and literacy advocate. She is a former managing director at the Puku Children’s Literature Foundation, a trustee of READ Educational Trust and a part owner of feminist trade publishing house Modjaji Books.

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And our sunshine noir author for October is … Paul E. Hardisty

A new months calls for a new sunshine noir sending shivers down the spines of local thriller fans…

This month, the co-author of the popular Detective Kubu series, Michael Sears, had the opportunity to interview Paul Hardisty for The Big Thrill – the magazine for international thriller writers.

Here’s what Michael and Paul chatted about:

A Canadian by birth and now the CEO of the Australian Institute of Marine Science based in Queensland, Paul Hardisty has spent 25 years working all over the world as an engineer, hydrologist, and environmental scientist. He has rough-necked on oil rigs in Texas, explored for gold in the Arctic, and rehabilitated village water wells in the wilds of Africa. He survived a bomb blast in a café in Sana’a in 1993, and was one of the last Westerners out of Yemen before the outbreak of the 1994 civil war.

Yemen was the setting for Hardisty’s powerful debut thriller, The Abrupt Physics of Dying, which was short-listed for the Crime Writers Association Creasy New Blood Dagger award – the premiere British award for first novels in the mystery/thriller genre. It was followed by The Evolution of Fear last year.

Paul’s protagonist, Claymore Straker, is a South African who went through the mill of the Angola war and was badly chewed up in it. In Reconciliation for the Dead we find out what really happened to him then and why. It’s Clay’s backstory.

How much of that story have you always known, and how much have you developed in the writing of this book?

I have been thinking about and working on the plot and character elements of this series for the last 15 years. Clay’s experiences as a young man growing up in South Africa during apartheid were always going to be the essential backstory for the books, and I had a number of pretty specific events from his past fixed quite early. These appear as fragments of flashbacks and recollections in the first two books, which are set 13-plus years later, after Clay has been dishonorably discharged and exiled from SA.

In the third book, Reconciliation for the Dead, Clay goes back to South Africa to testify to Desmond Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), seeking amnesty for the terrible things he did during the war. His testimony provides the vehicle for us to go back to 1981, and explore Clay’s past in detail. It explains why Clay is the distant, emotionally closed, damaged man we meet first in The Abrupt Physics of Dying. The progression has been a natural one, I think, and has built suspense. So when you finally find out just what happened back then that was so bad, I hope it pretty much blows you away.

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission meeting

Much of the book takes place when he is 21, fighting in the undeclared war in Angola on the side of the South African army. The theme of the book is largely his personal disillusionment with the defense of white South Africa as he learns about the abhorrent things that it’s doing. Yet he finds himself unable to join the other side, whatever his sympathies. Is this unresolved internal tension at the heart of the character we see in the books that are set later?

Absolutely. The man we meet in the first two books is simply unable to forgive himself for what he has done. It forces him, eventually, back to testify to the TRC, in an attempt to win amnesty, but mostly to find some kind of absolution. Throughout this, Rania, the other main character, is trying to help him understand that forgiveness is possible, and that most importantly, he must learn to forgive himself.

Most of the book takes place in South Africa and Angola. How did you develop the background knowledge to set a book in two countries you don’t know well?

Actually, I have worked extensively across Africa over the last 30 years. I was married in West Africa in the 1980s, was in Ethiopia in the early ’90s as the Mengistu regime fell, and have traveled extensively across Southern Africa. So I know some of the continent pretty well, and obviously, tried to set as many of the scenes as I could in places I know. I have supplemented that with extensive research on the period (1980-82), and mention a couple of key sources in the back of the book. I also consulted with friends who were there at the time.

Continue reading their conversation here.
Book details

The Abrupt Physics of Dying

  • The Abrupt Physics of Dying: One Man. An Oil Company. A Decision That Could Cost His Life by Paul E. Hardisty
    EAN: 9781910633052
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

The Evolution of Fear

Reconciliation for the Dead

Q&A with Jack Higgins

Published in the Sunday Times

The Midnight BellThe Midnight Bell
Jack Higgins, HarperCollins

Which book changed your life?
As a child, Oliver Twist and in my teens, The Great Gatsby made me think I had to be a writer.

What music helps you write?
All types of music.

What is the strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?
Exploring wrecks at depths in the Virgin Islands when researching U-boats.

Do you keep a diary?
No, but I do keep a day book which is different because it handles truth and can’t be escaped.

Who is your favourite fictional hero?
As a child, Errol Flynn. Saw his Robin Hood lately and it was still wonderful with Claude Rains as King John.

Which words do you most overuse?
Others would have to tell.

What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?
The Harry Potter series.

Has a book ever changed your mind about something?
Quite a bit of what Winston Churchill wrote, covering the nature of war and the bravery of ordinary human beings.

You’re hosting a literary dinner with three writers. Who’s invited?
Frederick Forsyth, Agatha Christie and Alistair MacLean, a genuine friend who gave me great encouragement.

Do you finish every book that you start? If you don’t, how do you decide when to stop reading?
No, I stop reading a book if it is boring the hell out of me!

What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?
A copy of The Distant Summer, written by my eldest daughter, Sarah Patterson, when she was 15. A World War 2 story set in a village in England close to a Lancaster bomber station where a 16-year-old vicar’s daughter falls in love with a young rear gunner whose burned hands have ruined his future. A heartbreaking, wonderful book. You’ll cry.

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Harry Hole is back with more bleakness: William Saunderson-Meyer reviews the latest Jo Nesbo – The Thirst

Published in the Sunday Times

The ThirstThe Thirst
Jo Nesbo, Harvill Secker

It’s been four years since we last saw Harry Hole, the conflicted but brilliant Oslo detective. Now he is back in harness, chasing a particularly vicious serial killer.

It’s not what Harry had wanted. He had found himself a comfortable new niche, imparting his wisdom to the next generation at the police academy. It was meant to be a restorative change of pace.

As the pressure had eased, so too had Harry’s nightmares. The night-time visits from the murder victims and their demonic killers were less frequent and intense.

The low-stress job was only part of the explanation. The main reason was Rakel, his new wife, and the unexpected blessing of a love he had never expected to find.

Then the killings had started, all women who were using a dating app. The public was terrified, as details of the killer’s gruesome methods leaked. The media was going berserk and the politically ambitious head of the Oslo police had to use a bit of professional blackmail to compel the reluctant Harry to join the investigation.

The Thirst is Nesbo at his bleakest best. The plot is tantalisingly intricate, the characters finely drawn.

Harry, as in the previous 10 novels in the series, is satisfyingly complex. Perhaps sometimes too complex for comfort, as when he reflects upon the different ways he has of awakening.

One is waking alone, which may be accompanied by a sense of freedom, or by an awareness of what everyone’s life really is: a journey to lonely death. Then there are variations of awakening with angst.

The rarest, for Harry, is awaking with a feeling of contentment. “This ridiculous happiness … was a new type of waking up for Harry Hole.”

Needless to say, the thirst threatens to destroy Harry’s new happiness forever. – William Saunderson-Meyer @TheJaundicedEye

Book details

Builds like a Highveld storm: Shelagh Foster reviews Fiona Melrose’s Johannesburg

Fiona Melrose populates the suburb with a diverse cast and shows the common thread between us, writes Shelagh Foster for the Sunday Times

Fiona Melrose, Little Brown

In Midwinter, Fiona Melrose captured readers with her extraordinary talent for dialogue and her deep compassion for her characters. Reading Johannesburg, you realise how she does it. Johannesburg is set in one day, in one area of the city – Houghton. Gin – or Virginia – has arrived from New York to host an 80th birthday party for her mother Neve. They are both self-contained, tightly wound women who have never quite connected, and who can’t help hurting each other.

Mercy, Neve’s domestic worker, is a warm-hearted observer, keeper of peace and order in the Houghton home situated on the same street as the Nelson Mandela residence. Mercy will shortly be going back to her home for the December holidays and would prefer more time to attend to her own preparations.

Dudu works at a neighbouring house. She is tired. Tired of picking up after her careless employers, tired from caring for her homeless and hurt brother, September.

Peter hovers on the periphery, longing to connect with Gin, the woman who has always refused his love. Juno, Neve’s little dog, potters under feet and shrubbery, unwittingly awaiting its essential role in the unrolling drama. Other characters enter and leave, adding depth and colour. They are all entirely real.

The day is the day on which Mandela’s death is announced. Mourners gather at the residence while Gin, planning the perfect birthday dinner just down the road, fights her inner demons. She would rather be at home in her artist’s studio than here, in her mother’s house; she would rather be anywhere.

Gin is an easy-to-admire-from-a-distance woman. Not exactly likeable, but as Melrose peels back her layers, you can see both her strength and fragility, her need to hide her inner self.

While Gin is clearly the protagonist, the story truly belongs to September; an old man of 38 who has been bowed by a deformity and shattered by a crime of Marikana-esque proportions. His home is an abandoned garden; his bed, boxes and bags; his food brought to him by his beloved protector, Dudu; his last shreds of sanity held together by string, a protest placard and a determination to see wrong recognised and justice done.

At first glance, September is “other”, the smelly and annoying beggar at the intersection; but as Melrose sculpts his life you realise he is not other, he is a man, a brother and son, a being of broken dreams and promises – just like everyone else.

This is Melrose’s magic. She doesn’t enter her characters, she is them and they are her. She writes with a universal truth: that we are all one, that the only things that separate us are our fears and delusions.

It is no easy task to tell a story through so many different characters, each with their own perspective and voice. Melrose seems to do it with ease, making what could be a complicated and tricky read, a riveting page-turner.

Her beautiful language and extraordinary grasp of mood and pace allow the story to build like the approach of a Highveld storm, heavy with both promise and menace. – @ShelaghFoster1

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Book Bites: 1 October 2017

Published in the Sunday Times

King Kong  King Kong: Our Knot of Time and Music
Pat Williams, Portobello Books
Award-winning author Pat Williams documents the jazz opera King Kong. The musical is centred on heavyweight ’50s boxing champion Ezekiel Dlamini. Hailed as the unbeatable champ of those days, Dlamini was said to be dangerous, as William writes: “He would fight someone in the ring and then invite them to come outside and fight again on the street.” Fame turned to infamy when he was sentenced to 12 years in prison for killing his girlfriend. He later committed suicide, drowning himself in the prison dam. According to Williams it was thanks to King Kong that jazz legends like Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela found fame, and it was where Caiphus Semenya and Letta Mbulu met and fell in love. Williams also describes the impact the opera had on her and on the show’s original cast. – Khanyi Ndabeni

The MayflyThe Mayfly
James Hazel, Bonnier Zaffre
A paint-by-numbers thriller that starts off with too much exposition but relaxes into a character-driven narrative. Protagonist Charlie Priest is large, handsome and clever, with more than the required number of flaws. Once a detective inspector, Priest left the police to start a legal firm for a handful of high-end corporate clients in London. As a result he is loathed by most of his former colleagues, one of whom happens to be his ex-wife. He suffers from bouts of dissociative disorder during which he cannot communicate, although it’s hard to see how his appalling social skills could get any worse. And then there’s his brother, a convicted serial killer with whom Priest plays Holmes-and-Watson observation games during visits to the psychiatric prison ward. Sue de Groot @deGrootS1

A Jihad for LoveA Jihad For Love
Mohamed El Bachiri with David Van Reybrouck, Head of Zeus
“Life no longer tastes the same to me, but the setting sun is still glorious,” writes Bachiri after his wife, Loubna Lafquiri, was murdered on 22 March 2016 in a terrorist bombing in Brussels. Bachiri’s raw grief seeps through the pages of this tiny book that is part poetry, part memoir, and part tribute. This varied collection comes together as an overall plea to the world to cease reacting with hate and to fight for love. Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

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