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"Walters creates a sense of claustrophobia and fear which is compelling" - Margaret von Klemperer reviews The Last Hours

Published in The Witness, 12/02/2018

The Last Hours

Minette Walters
Allen & Unwin

Minette Walters, better known as an author of psychological crime novels, has moved into new territory here – back to the 14th Century and the arrival of the Black Death in southern England.

The results, the loss of around half the country’s population and with that, a mortal blow to the old feudal system of serfdom, are well documented historically and form an important backdrop to what is planned to be a two novel saga.

In the manor of Develish, the brutal Sir Richard of Develish is planning to ride to a neighbouring estate to arrange a marriage for his deeply unpleasant 14 year old daughter, Eleanor. He leaves his wife Lady Anne in charge, and while he is away, news of the rapidly spreading plague arrives.

As the bodies mount up, Lady Anne bars the estate to all comers, including her dying and unlamented husband and his entourage. Only when the survivors are out of quarantine (she has considerable medical knowledge, considering her era) does she let them return. But besides the plague stalking the countryside there are other dangers: starvation and marauding bands of dispossessed and chancers.

Walters creates a sense of claustrophobia and fear which is compelling – her work as a writer of psychological drama standing her in good stead here. She also draws a hierarchical and patriarchal society, ruled by an often corrupt church.

Tensions rise within the barricaded estate as serfs begin to realise there will be advantages for them once they can sell their labour. Their loyalty to their mistress keeps things on a more or less even keel – she has protected them against her horrible husband, and, maybe a trifle anachronistically, taught many of them to read and write.

Once a group of lads, led by the bastard Thaddeus, heads out to see what is happening beyond their boundary and to look for desperately needed food, the story divides into two parts, and loses a little of its tension. But it still rollicks along, and should delight fans of Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth and the like.

My main criticism would be that the goodies are so good and the baddies so bad that there is little room for nuance. But Walters produces a suitably cliffhanging ending so that there will be plenty of readers keen to find out the further fortunes of Lady Anne and Thaddeus, and even nasty little Eleanor. - Margaret von Klemperer

Book details

Woordfees Writers Festival 2018 programme

The countdown for the annual Woordfees Festival has begun…

From the second to the eleventh of March, the quaint Western Cape town of Stellenbosch will play host to an array of authors, poets, actors, playwrights, musicians and artists.

2018′s programme is certainly one for the books and the following Writers Festival sessions should not be missed:

Friday 2 March

 
WOMEN OF STEEL: THULI MADONSELA AND GLYNNIS BREYTENBACH
In conversation with Marianne Thamm
Presented by Pan MacMillan
Marianne, a well-known journalist and writer, sits down with two women whose lives are characterised by sheer willpower to pursue the truth. With Thuli’s memoir in the pipeline and Glynnis’ Rule of Law on the shelf, they discuss their formative influences, defining moments and fighting the odds still facing females today.
2 March 10:30
60 min | ATKV-Boektent | R50 | R60 at the door
 

Monday 5 March

 
RAMAPHOSA – BEHIND THE ENIGMA
With Max du Preez, Ray Hartley, Koketso Sachana and Jeremy Thompson

What does Ray Hartley’s Ramaphosa – The Man Who Would Be King say about the enigma that is the new ANC president – ambitious, charming, a born negotiator, astute businessman, the boy who at a young age told his friend that he would one day be president? In this centenary year of Nelson Mandela, who anointed him as his successor, everyone wants to know: Does he have what it takes to turn SA around? Max du Preez will lead the discussion with Hartley, Cape Talk’s Koketso Sachana and former Sky News achorman Jeremy Thompson.
5 March 09:00
60 min | ATKV-Boektent | R50 | R60 at the door

MARTIE MEIRING MEETS ACHMAT DANGOR
Presented by Pan MacMillan
The Man Booker nominated writer, who shot to fame with Kafka’s Curse, then made it onto to prestigious awards’s shortlist with Bitter Fruit, chats to Martie about growing up in the extraordinary days of apartheid, the role of the women in his family (his sister is Jessie Duarte) and in his latest novel, Dikeledi – the story of a young girl born in Harlem, and her grandmother back home.
5 March 14:00
60 min | HB Thom-seminar room | R50 | R60 at the door
 

Tuesday 6 March

 
REHANA ROSSOUW: NEW TIMES – BUT NO MANDELA
In coversation with Karina Szczurek

Presented by Jacana Media
As Ali Adams starts a new job as a political reporter at The New Times, a weekly newspaper in Cape Town, her stories make front page. But back home in Bo-Kaap the community has expectations, and none of them involve a woman running all over the place chasing stories. Apartheid, religion, homosexuality, Mandela The Sellout, politics of the newsroom, and post-traumatic stress all come to the fore in this gritty novel by a veteran political reporter.
6 March 09:30
60 min | HB Thom seminar room | R50 | R60 at the door

‘BOEKKLUB’: ALEXANDRA FULLER – A RHODESIAN CHILDHOOD
In conversation with Ingrid Winterbach

She grows up during the bush war that helped turn Rhodesia into Zimbabwe –the family’s bombproof Landrover is nicknamed Lucy. She survives a terrible, avoidable death that turns her fun-loving Scottish mother into a crazy drunk and for which she, as a child of eight, feels responsible … These last days of colonialism are at the heart of Alexandra Fuller’s internationally acclaimed 2002 memoir, Don’t Let’s go to the Dogs Tonight. She talks to Ingrid about a world of taboos and projected shame, about living in Wyoming after being separated from her all-American husband of 20 years, and “the beautiful and terrible” she wrestles with in writing.
6 March 19:15 for 19:45
60 min | ATKV-Boektent | R50 | R60 at the door (glass of wine included)
 

Wednesday 7 March

 
GEORGE BIZOS: 65 YEARS OF FRIENDSHIP
In conversation with Edwin Cameron

Presented by Penguin Random House
The world-renowned human-rights lawyer talks to Judge Edwin Cameron about his new book, a touching homage to his friendship with Nelson Mandela and a fascinating tale of two men whose work affected the lives of all South Africans– arguing in favour of the Constitution, which is under threat in the current political climate.
7 March 10:30
60 min | ATKV-Boektent | R50 | R60 at the door

WHOSE HISTORY IS IT ANYWAY?
With Fred Khumalo, Alexandra Fuller and Achmat Dangor

How important is it to keep telling accurate and unembellished stories about the past – even if it’s offensive or hurtful? Three writers discuss this with Sandra Swart. Fred used the sinking of the crew ship SS Mendi during the First World War as backdrop for Dancing the Death Drill. Alexandra wrote about growing up during the Rhodesian war in her debut and for her new novel, Quiet Until the Thaw, investigates the history of two Native American boys in a South Dakota reserve, while Achmat returns to the apartheid history in Dikeledi.
7 March 14:00
60 min | HB Thom-seminar room | R50 | R60 at the door
Thursday 8 March

REDI TLHABI: KHWEZI
In conversation with Adriaan Basson

Presented by Jonathan Ball Publishers
The book touched a nerve: More than 400 people attended the launch; 10 000 copies were sold in a week. Adriaan Basson asks the well known talk show radio host and author why, and what price Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo – better known as Khwezi – ultimately paid as the woman who dared to accuse Zuma of rape.
8 March 14:00
60 min | HB Thom-seminar room | R50 | R60 at the door
 

Saturday 10 March

 
THULI AND TIM AT GUARDIAN PEAK
With Thuli Madonsela, in conversation with Tim du Plessis
Adv Thuli Madonsela shows without question that dynamite comes in small packages. In seven years the former Public Protector has achieved what few accomplish in a lifetime, often praised and vilified in equal measures. Looking back at her time in office, she said the role is akin to that of the Venda traditional spiritual female leader, the Makhadzi, who whispers truth to the king or the ruler. And a ruler who ignores the Makhadzi does so at his peril. Sample a three-course meal prepared by the legendary Rust en Vrede chef, listening to former Rapport editor and columnist Tim du Plessis enjoying some rare personal time with this woman of steel.
10 March 12:30
180 min | Guardian Peak Winery and Restaurant | R950

No Longer Whispering to Power

Book details

 
 

Rule of Law

 
 
 
 
Ramaphosa: The man who would be king

 
 
 
 

Kafka's Curse

 
 
 
 
Bitter Fruit

 
 
 
 
Dikeledi

 
 
 
 
New Times

 
 
 
 
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight

 
 
 
 
65 Years of Frienship

 
 
 
 
Dancing the Death Drill

 
 
 
 
Khwezi

Peter Carey's novel about a motor race around Australia is not so much Mad Max as Thoughtful Stricken Max, writes Allison Pearson

Published in the Sunday Times


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A Long Way From Home
****
Peter Carey, Faber & Faber, R275

There are some novelists who lift the heart through sheer exuberance and generosity on the page. Laurence Sterne was the first (in that most singular of one-offs, Tristram Shandy). Charles Dickens is another. Peter Carey belongs in that same zestful company. The 14th novel by the two-times Booker Prize winner starts as a rattling good tale about a race and ends as a painful meditation on race. In between, there are 10000 miles of Australian terrain to navigate and centuries of buried, bloody history. The narrative does a sudden, handbrake turn, and you may feel the book has lost its way, but in the hands of such a skilful driver no detour is entirely wasted.

We begin where the author began, in Bacchus Marsh, a small town 33 miles from Melbourne, where Carey was born in 1943 to parents who ran a General Motors Holden dealership. The story is told through two alternating voices, a favourite Carey device. The first, Irene Bobs, is a petite, irrepressible young woman, married (with two children) to the similarly diminutive “Titch” Bobs.

Irene’s husband may be the best Ford salesman in south-eastern Australia, but he lives in fear of his bullying father, Dan. In Irene’s disgusted description, Dan “puffed himself up like a cobra, glaring in triumph at those of us whose wallets he planned to lighten”. Carey is just as good at evoking the Bobses’ sexually replete happiness.

Observing this domestic bliss wistfully from next door is lanky, bookish Willie Bachhuber, the second narrator, a fair-haired son of a Protestant preacher who, feeling out of place in Australia, pines for what he believes to be his native Germany. A teacher and radio-quiz maestro obsessed with maps, Willie is dodging support payments for a black child who can’t possibly be his. Tortured and tentative, Willie is drawn to the life force that is Irene and we sense a romance brewing.

The Bobses, meanwhile, have a plan to open a Ford dealership stymied by a jealous Dan. To boost their chances of being awarded a franchise they enter the Redex Reliability Trial, a bonkers, round-Australia motorsport race, hugely famous in the 1950s. All they lack is a navigator.

With perfect timing, their map-reading neighbour loses his job after dangling an errant schoolboy out of a window. Something the lad said about the whites-only immigration policy of Australia made peaceable Willie snap. “What about you, sir? Why did they let you in?” Willie reflects grimly that, “No one would see the parallels between the government’s recruitment of ‘Nordic types’ and their habit of removing the paler Aboriginal children from their mother and giving them to white families with total confidence that half-castes would never give birth to throwbacks…”

It’s a shockingly cruel image and, as we shall discover, a revealing one, but Carey doesn’t let the reader linger. As the eccentric trio hits the road, we are swept along.

Redex contestants were given detailed strip maps to help them negotiate the catastrophe-strewn course. Carey has great fun with the cautionary instructions. “SUDDEN DROPS”, “BEND INTO DEEP DRAIN”. Beneath the madcap mirth, however, a darker seam is opening up like a wound. Willie may excel at reading the white man’s maps, but what he doesn’t know is that the outback is crisscrossed with lines of ceremony and ritual.

The “murderous continent” starts to give up its ugly secrets. Taking a loo break, Irene stumbles upon an open grave, the site of a massacre. “There were so many, they must be blacks.” She finds a human skull “a tiny thing, as fragile and powdery as an emu egg … I was a mother. I knew what it was to hold a tender child and I knew this must be a little boy, and all these bones around him must be his family.”

Until now, Australia’s greatest living novelist has shied away from writing about the Aborigines.

Carey said he felt that it was not the place of a white writer to tell that story. Recently, though, he declared: “You can’t be a white Australian writer and spend your whole life ignoring the greatest, most important aspect of our history, and that is that we – I – have been the beneficiaries of a genocide.”

The novel’s second half sees Willie Bachhuber become a living renunciation of Titch Bobs’s cheerily brazen, “I could not give a f*** about what happened a hundred years ago.”

Working with Aboriginal people, and all the while uncovering the mystery of his own past, a guilty Willie learns to draw maps far more ancient than any made for motor cars. Carey has taken great care to do his research, and rightly so. Yet there is a cautious constricting in these pages, a sense of the novelist watching his step, which feels strange after the bravura brio of the beginning. Not so much Mad Max as Thoughtful Stricken Max.

Some critics have praised A Long Way from Home as evidence of a new “complexity” in Peter Carey’s work because, in literature, darkness is too often valued over light. I’m afraid I found the ending opaque to the point of bafflement, even after reading it several times. — ©The Telegraph, London

Book details

Fiction Friday: read the opening chapter of NR Brodie's Knucklebone


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Just because you can see it, doesn’t mean it’s true.

 
Sangomas and cops don’t mix. Usually. But this is Joburg, a metropolis that is equal parts flash and shadow, and where not everything can be easily explained. Ian Jack, a disillusioned former police officer, teams up with Reshma Patel, a colleague from his old life, to investigate a routine housebreaking gone bad. But when they uncover links to a possible animal poaching and trafficking syndicate, things go from complicated to dangerous to downright evil.

Set against the richly textured backdrop of a livewire African city, this fast-paced thriller offers a disturbing contemporary take on justice and morality. To be read with the lights on.

‘A cracking novel. Brilliant original writing, free of clichés. The pace is insane – in a good way.’ – Sarah Lotz, author of The White Road, Day Four and The Three .

NR BRODIE is a veteran journalist and best-selling author of five books.

Read the opening chapter…

ARMED RESPONSE

Ian Jack fiddled with the chinstrap on his helmet and tried not to think about how much of an idiot he looked. The bowl-shaped cap fit badly, and the padding smelled of someone else’s sweat. The bulletproof vest was the same, sitting too high on his shoulders and cutting into his arms whenever he reached forward. He had a cheap Chinese gun strapped to his right hip: a 9mm knockoff with rough workings and a safety that wouldn’t stay put.

‘Piece of shit,’ he thought.

But Myburgh had been firm: no gear, no going on patrol.

It was a warm evening, and Ian could feel damp patches growing under his arms. The inside of the car smelled of something artificially sweet and tropical. He looked at the dashboard and saw a stick-on air freshener in the shape of a pineapple. The fruit smiled at him.

The car was an underpowered Korean compact, branded with the name of the security company. It was parked near a copse of trees on the edge of an undeveloped patch of land between two houses.

‘You spend a lot of time here?’ Ian asked the man next to him.

There was silence.

‘What’s your name – Duma? Dumisane?’ Ian tried again.

‘Thomas,’ the guard said.

‘Thomas,’ Ian repeated with a sigh. ‘Sorry. I’m … I’m Ian.’ He’d been about to say Detective Jack and caught himself just in time.

Thomas gave him a funny look anyway. ‘Mister Myburgh called you ‘cousin’. You family?’

Ian shook his head. ‘It’s like a nickname. I used to be a cop. My dad was a cop. Myburgh knew him. Knew both of us. You know he used to be a cop, right?’

Thomas nodded.

‘Anyway, I got out a couple of years ago,’ Ian said. ‘Now I’m at university. This is for research.’

Thomas kept staring. ‘Which university?’ he asked, the words rolling into each other.

‘What?’

‘Which university?’ Thomas repeated, slower this time, like he was speaking to a child.

‘Uh, Wits,’ Ian stuttered.

‘Honours?’ Thomas asked. ‘Masters,’ Ian said. ‘Political studies,’ he added, aware how full of himself he sounded.

Thomas paused. ‘You look old for a student,’ he said. ‘My sister, she’s at Wits. She’s studying social work. But she doesn’t carry a gun.’

Ian looked down at Thomas’s waist, and saw the same gun strapped to his side.

‘What’s your story?’ he asked, hoping to change the subject.

Thomas gave a snort. ‘I was in MK. Nearly. I stopped school in the eighties. Wanted to be a revolutionary,’ he said. The last word seemed to linger in his mouth. ‘After 1994, I went back and got my matric. But this was the only job I could get,’ he said. ‘I’m helping to pay for my sister to study. So she can get a job without guns.’

Ian flicked his thumb over the butt of the 9mm again.

‘You want to be careful,’ Thomas said, looking down at the pistol. ‘They’re not like the Z88s you’re used to. Sometimes the safety clicks off. And they jam.’

‘Ja, I know,’ Ian said. ‘I saw a few of these … before.’

‘Piece of shit,’ Thomas said, and he chuckled.

Ian laughed too.

Just then the radio crackled into life. Ian jumped. A woman’s voice came through, unintelligible behind the static. The radio buzzed, then went silent again.

Ten seconds later a ringing noise came from the cubbyhole. Thomas leaned over, flicked open the latch, and pulled out a dull silver phone with the face lit up.

‘Car Two,’ he answered. His smile had disappeared.

Ian could hear a voice squawking from the phone.

‘Yes. Yes …’ Thomas nodded as he spoke, switching the phone from his right hand to his left, keeping the phone to his ear with his shoulder as he put the car into gear and turned on the ignition. ‘88 Forest. Corner what?’

Another squawk.

‘Protea. Okay.’ Thomas ended the call, dropped the phone onto his lap, and pulled off with a slight jerk.

‘Panic activation,’ he said to Ian as he accelerated, leaning forward and fumbling under the dashboard. A second later, the street around them lit up with flickering shadows from the orange and white lights on top of the car.

‘Don’t worry,’ Thomas said, keeping his eyes on the road, not looking at Ian. ‘It’s mostly false alarms. Dogs. Trees. Someone sits on the panic button.’ He sighed like it was an old routine.

The radio started issuing orders again – the line still crackled with static, but now Ian could make out what the dispatcher was saying.

‘Calling Two. They say someone jumped into the garden. Over.’

‘Calling Two. Over. Eight is on its way. Over.’

‘Calling Two. Over. Calling Eight. Over. Police have been called. Over.’

‘Calling Two. Over. Calling Eight. Over. House has an easy lock. Over.’

‘Calling Two. Over. Acknowledge. Over.’

Thomas lifted up the handset and clicked. ‘This is Two. Over. Roger. Over,’ he said.

‘What’s an easy lock?’ Ian asked as Thomas felt under the dashboard again, bringing the sirens to life. The sound was surprisingly loud and tinny inside the car.

‘It’s a lock with a special key,’ Thomas shouted over the noise. ‘All these houses with big walls and spikes, electric fences – we can’t get inside when the alarm goes off. So we give them a special lock, and then we have the key. It’s all the same key. For emergencies.’

Trees flashed past. Ian could feel his heart beating faster, adrenaline starting to kick in. He forced himself to slow his breathing.

He opened his eyes as the car slowed in front of a face-brick h Two large orange ceramic eights were screwed onto the wall. One of them was hanging skew. An outside motion sensor light came on as the car pulled to a stop.

Thomas switched off the siren, but left the lights flickering. ‘Don’t get in my way, okay?’ he said as he climbed out. ‘Maybe you’re a cop, but there are different rules for us. Just follow me.’

Ian nodded. He closed his door and hurried behind Thomas to a small pedestrian gate to the side of a double garage door.

Thomas pulled a bunch of keys from his jacket pocket. He worked one of them into the lock and turned it slowly before easing the gate open. He stood at the entrance, eyes alert. ‘Dogs,’ he whispered to Ian, looking around. ‘They can’t tell the difference between a good black man and a bad one,’ he said, giving a small grin.

There were no barks, nor any other noises. A few seconds later, Thomas stepped through, leaving the gate open behind him.

The house was close to the street front. Ian saw the curtains twitch. A face appeared behind the windowpane.

‘Top Force Security,’ Thomas called, loud so the person behind the glass could hear him. ‘Are you okay?’ he asked.

The face nodded. Then a hand was raised, pointing to the right of the house, jabbing with urgency.

Thomas took his gun out of its holster, keeping his arm low. Ian wondered if he was supposed to do the same. He decided he would wait for Thomas’s say-so.

They were about to start walking down the side of the house when Ian heard the sound of another vehicle pulling up. Car doors slammed, followed by the sound of boots on bricks.

Two more guards – wearing identical outfits to Thomas and Ian – stepped in through the gate, their hands already on the guns at their sides. They nodded at Thomas and looked at Ian with blank expressions. To Ian’s surprise, behind them came three police officers, two men in uniform and one woman in plainclothes. The first cop held a semiautomatic rifle ready, up against his chest; Ian knew the others would have their pistols out. He thumbed his own gun again, checked the safety.

Thomas pointed towards the narrow alley that ran along the side of the house.

The cops moved fast, going past the guards. Thomas and the others followed, Ian staying close behind them.

The alley opened up into a large back garden with a massive willow tree just off centre. A floodlight at the base of the tree cast shadows through the branches, spidering out over the grass. Near the rear boundary wall, Ian could make out a garden shed.

Something moved there.

Ian tapped Thomas lightly on the arm. The guard looked at the shed and nodded. He caught the attention of the largest cop, the one with the rifle. Thomas pointed towards the shed with his left hand, his right still holding firmly onto his gun.

The officer signalled the others and started moving towards the far side of the garden. He stepped softly despite his bulk. A few steps behind him, the plainclothes officer followed, her gun out, providing cover. The other uniformed cop began to circle from the near side, eyes trained on the shed.

Ian still didn’t have his weapon out. Even if he was allowed to fire it – and Myburgh hadn’t exactly been clear on that – he wasn’t sure what the deal was with cops on the scene. He didn’t trust the gun to do the job anyway, not if he needed to shoot from any sort of distance.

From the side of the shed, a shape detached itself from the shadows and darted towards the thin pool of light cast by the flood lamp.

Ian could see it was a slight man – young, maybe even a teenager. He was wearing jeans, sneakers, a T-shirt. There was a dark smear near the shoulder, and Ian wondered if it was blood. He couldn’t see the kid’s hands, or make out if he was holding a weapon.

‘Phakamis’ izandla!’ the big cop called. Hands up. The kid didn’t respond, or didn’t hear. He didn’t even turn his head towards the sound. He just stayed still for a second, hovering between the light and the dark.

‘He’s going to run for it,’ the woman shouted, as the youngster dropped into a half-crouch – then headed straight into the gap where Ian was standing.

Ian acted without thinking. He launched himself forward, praying his safety stayed on, and intercepted the kid with a thump, landing on top of him in the middle of a perfectly manicured piece of lawn.

‘Down,’ Ian yelled as he pinned the kid on the grass, holding the boy’s arms behind him as he knelt on his back. ‘He’s down,’ he yelled again. He could hear running feet, the kid on the grass panting, the cops calling out to each other.

Then there was another set of hands reaching for the suspect, someone else grabbing the kid’s wrists and securing them quickly with cable ties.

Ian felt a tap on his shoulder as he stood up. He paused to brush a patch of mud off his knee before he turned.

‘Hello Reshma,’ he said, trying to breathe normally. ‘Or is it Lieutenant Patel now?’ he asked.

The cop squinted for a second, then her eyes widened. ‘Jesus! Ian,’ she laughed, punching him hard on the arm.

Reshma barely came up to Ian’s chin. She had a short, neat bob and a square fringe that framed a slightly round face. She was wearing dark pants and a pale cream pullover, over which she’d strapped her vest. ‘Actually, it’s Captain Patel now,’ she said. ‘I didn’t recognise you when we came in. It must be the helmet.’

Ian was immediately aware, again, of how ridiculous he looked – dressed head to toe in shades of beige and brown. Even in a bulletproof vest and fleecy top, Reshma managed to look neat, professional, serious. Like a cop.

‘I thought you were supposed to be at university,’ she said, eyes narrowing.

‘I am. I’m doing research,’ Ian started. ‘On private security,’ he added, wishing he could say something that sounded a little more clever, or important. He could feel his arms and legs tingle as the adrenaline started to fade.

‘Look, that kid might be injured,’ he said, changing the topic. ‘I saw blood or something on his shirt. Maybe you should check it out?’ he suggested.

Reshma shrugged, as if to say she’d think about it.

One of the security guards was already up at the house, talking to the homeowners – a middle-aged couple, both in dressing gowns, both wideeyed. The wife stood with her arms tightly folded, hugging herself. Her husband nodded as he spoke. Something he said made the guard stop and turn away, leaving the dressing-gown man with his mouth hanging open. The guard – Ian could now see it was Thomas – made his way to where Reshma and Ian were standing.

‘Officer,’ Thomas started. ‘The client, he says he saw the kid jump over the fence from the neighbour’s house.’

They turned to look at the prefabricated concrete wall that ran between the house and the neighbouring property, a two-metre high wall that had been painted what looked like dark green.

‘The neighbour’s not our client,’ Thomas said, turning back to Reshma. ‘We can’t get in there without the owner’s permission.’

Reshma nodded. ‘No problem,’ she said. ‘We’ll go over and ring their bell, check it out. Thanks for letting me know. Jimmy, Gift,’ she called out, ‘we need to go to the house next door and …’

Before she could finish, two shots exploded from the neighbouring house, cutting through the night like firecrackers.

Ian saw Reshma flinch. The next second, she was in full control again. ‘Go, go, go,’ she screamed, as the policemen left the cuffed kid lying on the ground and raced in the direction of the noise.

Reshma was the first to reach the wall, hauling herself up and dropping down the other side, nimble as a rat. The others didn’t make the jump quite as easily. The big cop was still trying to pull himself up and over when Ian started running. He could hear shouting behind him and hoped Thomas was smart enough not to follow. He caught the top of the fence and flipped over, landing heavily on hard-packed soil on the other side.

The neighbour’s garden was almost completely bare, except for one patch of bushes and a few outcrops of lawn. Ian could see Reshma running towards the back of the house where an outside light revealed a wide-open sliding door. The inside of the house was in darkness.

Ian didn’t wait to see if the other two cops had made their way over the wall yet. He followed Reshma, snaking his way across the yard. As he passed the bushes, a small white shape burst out under his feet. Ian swore as he jumped mid-stride, trying not to trip over whatever it was. The shape let out a terrified squawk. A chicken.

He kept moving, hoping there were no more surprise animals on the way, thinking about Thomas’s warning about dogs.

As Ian got closer to the house, he could hear Reshma shouting. He slowed down to unclip his gun, keeping it pointed towards the ground. His own breath was coming hard and fast now. He honed in on the sound of Reshma’s voice, talking now, no longer shouting.

‘Step away from him. Step away,’ she was saying as Ian reached the open doorway.

Ian could smell the sour tang of burnt gunpowder, and something else. Blood. He looked inside and saw a woman – heavyset, with long dark hair and pale skin – crouching over a small body on the floor. The woman was wearing a sleeveless top, her exposed arms thick with flesh. In her left hand, she held a small snub-nosed pistol. It reminded Ian of the old Makarovs.

The two cops – Gift and Jimmy, Ian remembered – eventually caught up. Ian stepped aside to let them pass, ignoring their glares.

Reshma carried on talking to the woman, her weapon still held at the ready.

‘Ma’am. You need to move away from him, now.’

The woman stood up slowly, looking dazed. She was in her late forties, Ian thought. Her face was square, a hint of jowl peeking out beneath the chin.

The room was small, sparsely decorated. Blank walls, a tiled floor. An almost empty bookshelf and a vertical wine rack half-filled with bottles.

The body sprawled on the tiles was a carbon copy of the kid they’d caught next door: dressed in T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers, his skinny limbs lay in a pile of unnatural angles that said it all.

‘Is there anyone else?’ Reshma asked.

The pale woman shook her head.

‘Gift, check his signs,’ Reshma called. ‘Jimmy, check out the house.’

The woman jerked her head up as the shorter cop, Jimmy, moved around the body and disappeared through another door.

Gift, the larger officer, knelt down next to the teenager and put his fingers on the skin between the kid’s jaw and throat. ‘Nothing,’ he said after a few seconds. He rose, shaking his head.

Reshma kept her gun trained on the floor, and her eyes on the pale woman. If she was aware of Ian, she gave no sign of it. With her right hand she pulled a radio from the utility belt around her hips and called for an ambulance. Ian always forgot Reshma was left-handed, until she wrote something down, or it was time for target practice.

‘It’s a P4,’ Reshma told the dispatcher. Priority 1 was urgent, lifethreatening, requiring immediate medical attention. Priority 4 meant the person was beyond assistance, or already dead. There would be no sirens for that journey, Ian thought.

‘Are you okay?’ Reshma asked the other woman.

The woman nodded, staring at the body on the floor, her arms dangling. Ian noticed she was still holding her pistol. He bit back the urge to tell Reshma.

Whatever the woman was feeling about having just shot and killed somebody, she hid it well. Her face was blank, almost featureless except for a dusting of freckles across her nose. In the bleak half-light, her skin appeared almost grey, and Ian noted that she did not appear to have any eyebrows. She looked somewhere between a clown and a ghost.

He looked back at the body and saw the faintest spatter of blood on the floor, tiny black dots radiating outward on the white squares of the tiles.

‘I killed him?’ the woman asked, an accent audible in the corners of her words.

Reshma nodded.

‘He was going to rape me,’ the woman said. This time the accent was more noticeable. Something European, maybe Eastern Europe, Ian thought, which might explain the Makarov.

From somewhere in the house, Jimmy shouted the rooms were all clear.

‘What happened?’ Reshma asked, her voice sharp and alert. She was working the crime, Ian knew.

The other woman paused and looked around her as if she didn’t recognise the space she was in.

‘I … I left the sliding door open. Is for the cats. Then I heard noise,’ she said. Her voice had begun to tremble. She shuffled from side to side and a foot poked out underneath the long, shapeless skirt she was wearing. Ian could make out her exposed toes.

It was one of the things he had hated about being a cop; the nakedness that came with crime. Seeing people at their most unguarded and unprepared.

The woman started rambling. ‘I heard noise. I went to get my gun,’ she said. ‘The one man, he ran away. The other, he stayed. He said he had a gun in his pocket. He was telling me I had to do what he said. He was talking to me. I don’t know what he said,’ she whispered, the trembling getting worse. ‘Does he have a gun?’ she asked, her large eyes contracting.

Ian looked. The young boy’s hands were splayed, as if he had been trying to stop himself from falling. They were empty.

‘Is he really dead?’ the woman asked again. Then: ‘I shot him,’ she said, without waiting for an answer. She stared at her own hands and saw the gun in them, as if she had almost forgotten it was there.

Reshma stepped forward, her own gun pointing away, wanting to retrieve the woman’s weapon. The pale woman started at the movement and looked up, past Reshma.

‘Who is he?’ she asked, pointing at Ian.

‘Security guard,’ Reshma answered without turning back. ‘Your neighbour pressed a panic button.’

‘My neighbours, they are afraid of so many things,’ the pale woman said, almost mockingly. She reached up to scratch her face. The movement left a dirty trail across her nose, smudging the freckles. With a chill, Ian realised they were blood spatters.

‘You should get that checked,’ Ian said. ‘You’ll need to go on ARVs.’

The woman gazed at him, her eyes almost glittering, even in the darkness.

Reshma turned to face Ian. ‘You should get back,’ she said, pointedly. ‘There’s no reason for you to be here.’ She waited for him to leave. Ian put the safety back on his gun and holstered it before turning and walking away from the dead room.

Book details

Jan Vermeulen nou ook internasionaal bekroon

Die bekroonde skrywer Jan Vermeulen se jeugroman Asem is pas deur IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) as ereboek in die kategorie vir Afrikaanse jeugliteratuur aangewys, wat beteken Asem sal deel vorm van die internasionale erelyskatalogus wat tweejaarliks deur dié gesaghebbende kinderboekliggaam saamgestel word.

Vermeulen is tans besig om op alle fronte naam te maak.

Asem is as wenner van LAPA Uitgewers se jeugromankompetisie vir 2015 aangewys.
• Teen die einde van 2017 het hy silwer gewen in NB se jeugromankompetisie met Soen.
• Verlede week het ons aangekondig dat Vermeulen ook LAPA Uitgewers se jeugromankompetisie vir 2017 gewen het met Oopmond.
• Oor ongeveer drie weke verskyn Vermeulen se krimi vir volwasse lesers, Die vyfde Aspoester, ook by LAPA Uitgewers.

Van die belangrikste oorwegings wanneer die IBBY-erelys saamgestel word, is dat die boeke op die lys die beste van elke land se kinderliteratuur moet verteenwoordig, en dat dit geskik moet wees vir publikasie regoor die wêreld.

Die boeke op die lys vorm deel van rondreisende uitstallings wat by verskeie internasionale konferensies en literêre feeste te sien sal wees, en sal ook deel vorm van die permanente uitstallings van byvoorbeeld die Internasionale Jeugbiblioteek in München, Duitsland.

Asem vertel die verhaal van Barries Barnard wat by sy vervreemde pa in die Oos-Kaap moet gaan bly ná ’n ongeluk waarin hy en sy vriende onder die invloed van drank en dwelms ’n verkeerskonstabel omry.

Vermeulen sê hy kry gereeld positiewe terugvoering van lesers oor Asem, en die insluiting op die erelys is vir hom ’n groot aansporing.

“Ek is veral baie opgewonde oor die moontlikheid dat Asem tieners en jong mense in ander wêrelddele ook kan bereik en vir hulle dieselfde kan beteken as vir ons eie tieners hier in Suid Afrika.”

Toe Asem as wenner van LAPA Uitgewers se jeugromankompetisie vir 2015 aangewys is, het die beoordelaars dit beskryf as ’n aangrypende, eerlike grootwordverhaal oor verslawing en tweede kanse.

Miemie du Plessis, uitgewer: kinder- en jeugboeke van LAPA Uitgewers, sê Asem is werklik ’n unieke storie wat dié uitsonderlike eer dubbel en dwars verdien. “Daar was nog nooit so iets in Afrikaans nie – ’n boek wat die impak van ’n afwesige pa so brutaal eerlik aanspreek. En omdat dit so ’n wydverspreide probleem in Suid-Afrika is, is die boek honderd persent in die kol wat die tema en die uitvoering daarvan betref. Boonop is die storie en karakters behoorlik ontwikkel, en die leser kan nie anders as om ingetrek te word by Barries en sy wêreld nie.”

Boekbesonderhede

Fiona Snyckers's first book in a new series is fun, fast-paced and features a strong female protagonist, writes Tiah Beautement

Published in the Sunday Times


 
 
 
Hacked
****
Fiona Snyckers, Indie Publishers,
Available on Amazon, R40

This fun and fast-paced read is the start of the six-book Eulalie Park murder-mystery series, which includes a hint of romance.

Private investigator Eulalie Park is used to working alone. But the new chief of police, Donal Macgregor, is not easy to ignore, especially after he accuses Park’s best friend of murder. As Park sets off on her cherry-red Vespa to prove her friend’s innocence, sparks ignite between the detective and the chief.

“Chief Macgregor is a series regular,” says Snyckers. “I like to think he would be played by fellow Scot James McAvoy if this series made it to the big screen.”

Hacked is set on the fictitious Prince William Island, near Madagascar.

“I’m fascinated by the way in which parts of the world were carved up on paper by Europeans sitting at a conference table thousands of miles away,” says Snyckers. “I wanted Prince William Island to be a real melting-pot of cultures, with a strong Francophone influence.”

The novel’s pacing is smooth, keeps readers guessing, and the narrative avoids deus ex machina to resolve the case.

“It is very important that readers should feel satisfied after reading a murder mystery,” Snyckers says.

“You don’t want want your readers actually to solve the mystery themselves, but you want them to look back on the build-up of evidence in the book and to feel as though they could have solved it if only they had been a little more alert.”

Snyckers’s long-time fans expect stories that feature strong and intriguing female characters. Park is no exception – a heroine with larger-than-life abilities, she’ll be admired by readers young and old. Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie