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Book Bites: 13 May

Published in the Sunday Times

The Force
****
Don Winslow, Harper Collins, R205

What makes a good cop good at his job? Courage? Intelligence? Bravery, empathy, toughness? Detective Sergeant Denny Malone and his elite team, dealing with drugs, guns and gangs in New York, have all those qualities. What characterises a bad cop? Theft, dishonesty, accepting bribes, violence? Collusion? Murder? He and his team are guilty of all those as well. The Force describes in riveting detail how these contradictions are possible, even inevitable. Malone came from a police family, and joined as a young idealist, determined to do good. In the face of injustice and systematic corruption, he started crossing the line, one step at a time. Eventually caught, Malone is prepared to admit his own crimes, but the Feds want him to betray his friends, his contacts and his mentors. Set against a background of imminent racial conflagration and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, it is simply excellent. Aubrey Paton

Night Moves
***
Jonathan Kellerman, Headline, R300

Psychologist Alex Delaware is called by his old LAPD pal, Milo Sturgis, to a home in upscale Pacific Palisades. Inside the house is a corpse with no hands, no face and no blood. And a family who are certain they don’t know the victim who appeared in their den while they were out. Night Moves is Kellerman’s 33rd Delaware thriller and, as ever, he delivers sharp prose, intelligent plots and sleazy characters. A solid, enjoyable thriller, the novel’s real strength lies in the relationship and banter between Delaware and Sturgis. That’s really what his fans are after, and Kellerman delivers with class. Russell Clarke @russrussy

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"Unsettling and highly informative." Business Day reviews Rajesh Sundaram's Indentured

“Why Zuma?” asked Atul Gupta. “We have close relations with everyone in the ANC. If Zuma is ever ousted, I can tell you for sure that the next one in line from the ANC would be close to us as well. We are ‘Banias’, and we know how to keep our business interests protected,” Gupta added.

A senior broadcast journalist from India is headhunted to lead the team that’s been tasked to launch the latest privately owned 24-hour television news channel in South Africa. He is lured with promises of a unique professional challenge where he will have the chance to empower young black reporters to tell the stories of ordinary South Africans; train technicians in using the world’s best news gathering technology and state-of-the-art broadcast systems; and create a world-class product across the African continent.

But soon he will learn how the influential family who had hired him and the highest office in the country are inextricably linked in a bid to create a propaganda tool that will not only advance a clear political agenda, but also position itself to loot state coffers of millions of rand. This and the flagrant disregard for the law by flouting work visa regulations and exploiting young black South Africans and migrant Indian workers are but a few of the issues that made him realise that he was caught in a web of lies, deceit and political thuggery.

Indentured: Behind the Scenes at Gupta TV is Rajesh Sundaram’s story of how he led a small team of Indian broadcast professionals and South African interns to launch the television news channel ANN7 under extremely tight deadlines and the power-grabbing and money-hungry mogul Atul Gupta and his cronies breathing down their necks. All this results in Sundaram quitting his job in a public spat, while his life is threatened, his health deteriorates and his continued loyalty to the vulnerable at ANN7 is tested.

GuptaLeaks gave South Africans the facts and Indentured will give the reader the understanding and depth of the true nature of the Zuma-Gupta cabal.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A journalist for the past 23 years, Rajesh Sundaram holds a degree in Journalism from the University of Delhi, and has worked for top Indian and international media houses, including India Today Group, NDTV and Al Jazeera. He is well known for his expertise in launching television news stations, with seven successful launches worldwide under his belt. Sundaram currently lives in Chennai, India with his journalist wife Rashmi Sanyal and daughters, Ananya and Ahana.

Edward Tsumele reviewed Sundaram’s explosive account for Business Day. Give it a read!

When the Gupta-owned 24-hour television station African News Network (ANN7) launched in August 2013, audiences were mesmerised — by the amateurish visuals, off cue presenters, inexplicable blackouts in the middle of bulletins and general unprofessionalism.

This chaos trended on social media on the day, embarrassing the owners and employees. However, the onscreen drama was nothing compared with the behind-the-scenes madness that unfolded in the four months leading to the launch.

For starters, the name of the new station was given by Jacob Zuma, who at the time was president. His family had a direct interest in the station, owning 30% of its shares, and was involved in hiring some of the presenters.

The staff were treated like slaves by Atul and Ajay Gupta, who, against advice, demanded that they launch the station under impossibly tight deadlines. Management never provided adequate training for the new, inexperienced employees, some of whom had no training or experience as journalists.

These explosive revelations are in a new book Indentured: Behind the Scenes at Gupta TV, written by seasoned Indian journalist Rajesh Sundaram. With a foreword by veteran editor Peter Bruce, it reveals the extent to which Zuma and his son Duduzane were involved in the founding of ANN7, which was carried on DStv.

The issues are raw and make for uncomfortable reading, especially the conflicts of interest and discriminatory practices by the station’s management.

Continue reading Tsumele’s review here.

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Savagely funny but serious, cynical and sanguine and whippingly plotted - Michele Magwood reviews Mick Herron's fifth novel featuring the greedy gaseous lunk, Jackson Lamb

Published in the Sunday Times

London Rules
*****
Mick Herron, John Murray, R295

One of the authors I’m most looking forward to meeting at the Franschhoek Literary Festival next week is Mick Herron. The British writer has been quietly turning out a series of spy novels that have built something of a cult following. With London Rules, his fifth, it looks like he’s reached the tipping point onto the mainstream radar.

The plain cover of the book obscures a rare combination of wit, plot, affecting writing and vivid characterisation. It is savagely funny but serious, cynical and sanguine and whippingly plotted, veering from small human vignettes to huge public events.

Jackson Lamb is the axis of the series, a great greedy gaseous lunk who lives on Chinese takeaways and tumblers of Scotch. He’s a washed up Cold War operative who has been shut out of MI5 and put in charge of a band of disgraced spies, the so-called “slow horses”. They are stabled in a decaying building called Slough House where they eke out their days sifting through statistics and drinking weak tea.

There’s Catherine Standish, a recovering alcoholic, who Lamb teases by pouring her drinks; River Cartwright, scion of a legendary MI5 family who screwed up spectacularly; Shirley Dander is a cokehead with anger problems; Louisa Guy is paralysed by grief for her dead partner; and JK Coe is a psychologist with post-traumatic stress disorder, who hides under a hoodie with buds in his ears. And then there is the deliciously awful Roddy Ho, genius hacker and delusional narcissist.

When a terrorist cell erupts into a string of attacks, evidence points to Ho having unwittingly passed information to his girlfriend. And so the slow horses are dragged reluctantly into the action, because the first of the London Rules, as everybody knows, is Cover Your Arse.

Herron presents a sharply contemporary view of the UK that at times borders on libel: the populist Brexiteer politician (and secret cross-dresser) Dennis Gimball and his harpy columnist wife, Dodie; the Muslim politician Zafar Jaffrey, in the running to be mayor of the West Midlands, who has some worrying cohorts, and a vain and weak prime minister concerned only with his image.

As the terrorists strike again and again, the intelligence services get help – almost by accident – from the farcically inept Slough Housers.

Their bickering is blistering but it’s Lamb who gets the best lines. He asks Louisa for an educated guess; when she replies he barks, “I said educated. That guess left school at 15 for a job at Asda.”

Lamb turns to Coe: “You’re the one who gets panic attacks, right? Behind you! Just kidding.” He compares ethical behaviour to “a vajazzle on a nun. Pretty to picture, but who really benefits?”

Padding through the action, and lifting the book to another plane is some arresting description of the hours of the day passing.

“In some parts of the world dawn arrives with rosy fingers, to smooth away the creases left by night. But on Aldersgate Street … it comes wearing safe-cracker’s gloves, so as not to leave prints on windowsills and doorknobs; it squints through keyholes, sizes up locks, and generally cases the joint ahead of approaching day.”

Herron has, of course, been compared to John le Carré and Graham Greene but he is entirely, subversively, unique. @michelemagwood

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Book Bites: 6 May

Published in the Sunday Times

Clockwork City
****
Paul Crilley, Hodder & Stoughton, R315

This is Scottish writer Crilley’s latest engrossing supernatural-procedural. The story that started in his debut Poison City continues as low-grade magician Gideon Tau (aka London) and his demonic sidekick dog (aka Dog) are once again tasked to save the world. Haunted by the kidnapping of his daughter, London can’t stop tugging at the threads of her disappearance. His investigation takes him and Dog from Durban to London and into the magical world of Faerie. The colourful cast of characters includes Armitage the chocoholic revenant, and alcoholic Fae-enthusiast Callum Winters. Then there’s also Mother London, Queen Rat and a cast of bad guys wanting to eat them. Clockwork City is hilarious, terrifying and wonderfully imaginative. Anna Stroud @annawriter_

DictatorlandDictatorland: The Men Who Stole Africa
*****
Paul Kenyon, Head of Zeus, R315

The plunder of Africa by a handful of elite leaders has seen the continent stripped of its beauty and we are rapidly losing what is left of its natural resources to the corrupt. This is the story of the men who stole Africa. The dictators who have cut their land and people off from the world, forcing them into poverty, and yet they live fine lives many only dream of. Paul Kenyon has a beautiful way with words and this book will leave you haunted. How is it possible that this magnificent land of ours has been lost? More importantly, is there any hope? Jessica Levitt @jesslevitt

The Cutting Edge
The Cutting Edge
***
Jeffery Deaver, Hodder & Stoughton, R295

My relationship with Lincoln Rhymes and Amelia Sachs is complicated. I still love them as a power couple investigating convoluted murder cases but I feel that most of the magic and chemistry is gone. It’s time to move on. Deaver still manages to deliver the expected quantum of thrills and twists and turnabouts but it’s all so very meh – although you do learn reams about diamonds. Rhymes and Sachs have to find a killer targeting happily engaged couples – their love is hated by the killer. Or is it? Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

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"An enigmatic examination of shifting taste and permissiveness - social and personal." Russell Clarke reviews Alan Hollinghurst's The Sparsholt Affair

Published in the Sunday Times

The Sparsholt Affair
***
Alan Hollinghurst, Picador, R330

Divided into five fairly distinct, yet linked sections, each with its own set of characters, time-frame and worldview, Hollinghurst’s newest novel is as enigmatic as the author. A self-professed loner who secludes himself for long periods while writing, The Sparsholt Affair is only his sixth novel in nearly 30 years.

Part one introduces us to Oxford in 1940, when David Sparsholt arrives at the university for a single term before embarking on a military career. His arrival causes commotion, owing to his outstanding beauty and physical prowess, particularly among a group of friends who first spy David exercising in his rooms. Engaged to Connie, Sparsholt becomes a preoccupation for this group of gay men (though they wouldn’t have called themselves that in the ’40s). David is clearly not unaware of his beauty, nor entirely impervious to the approaches of his admirers.

Part two fast-forwards to 1966, a year before homosexuality is decriminalised in Britain, where we meet our new narrator, Johnny – David’s son. Young Johnny is obsessed with a French exchange student placed with the Sparsholts, Bastien, and spends much time frustrated by Bastien’s beauty and disregard for Johnny’s existence. Another family is holidaying with the Sparsholts, and it is soon clear there is an affair between David and his male colleague, to which their wives are not oblivious.

Parts three and four move the action into London in the ’70s and ’80s, and Johnny’s burgeoning life as a painter and his discovery of an increasingly open gay life. Also revealed is David’s involvement, in 1967, in the eponymous Sparsholt Affair. Hollinghurst never fully reveals the detail of the scandal, but it appears to haunt David who retreats into an ever-more conservative world, and marries his secretary after his marriage to Connie, Johnny’s mother, ends. Even more problematically, the scandal haunts Johnny, whose family name never fails to raise eyebrows, even decades later. After all, books were written about the scandal. Johnny, if it isn’t clear by now, is also gay.

The final part of the novel introduces us to Johnny’s daughter, and moves the narrative fully into the 21st century, replete with hook-up apps, online porn, and more freedom.

The Sparsholt Affair is impossible to categorise with any neatness. The five-part structure, which begins with a certain formality, falls away so that by the end it is a far looser book than that which one had begun reading.

Hollinghurst’s power lies in his ability to see the fine details of lives, and his understanding and layering of the broad sweep of history and human change over that. The Sparsholt Affair is an examination of shifting taste and permissiveness – social and personal. It’s difficult to decide whether the book is enjoyable or not, peopled by so many characters and covering so many years. Perhaps the uncertainty is Hollinghurst’s intention. Russell Clarke @russrussy

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Different voices: prominent feminists write about what feminism means to them and what they would like to see, in SA and globally, writes Tiah Beautement

Published in the Sunday Times

Clockwise from top left: Pumla Dineo Gqola, Michelle Hattingh, Helen Moffett, Gugulethu Mhlungu, Rebecca Davis, Dela Gwala, Ferial Haffajee and Jen Thorpe. (Pictures supplied.)

 

Feminism Is
*****
Edited by Jen Thorpe, Kwela, R250

‘If we’re going to talk about feminism, we need to understand that the term has different meanings, for different people, in different contexts – and that’s okay,” writes Aaisha Dadi Patel. Patel is one of 31 contributors in Feminism Is, including notable names such as Gugulethu Mhlungu, Rebecca Davis, Ferial Haffajee, Nomalanga Mkhize, and Helen Moffett.

The book is the brainchild of Jen Thorpe and serendipitously comes at a time when #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are now leaning into much-needed conversations.

The project was sparked by “Talking Feminism”, an event at the 2016 Open Book Festival, featuring Thorpe along with Mohale Mashigo, Yewande Omotoso, Pumla Dineo Gqola and Nnedi Okorafor.

The collection is a glimpse into the wider conversations that encompass feminism, including raising boys, climate change, race, class, womanism, feminism in a Muslim context, gender, social media, language, diet, Donald Trump, dating, and South Africa’s Department of Women. As to the latter, Thorpe writes: “Since 2014, when the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities was dissolved, and reconstituted as the Department of Women, the engagement with women’s issues (outside of the financial requirements such as quarterly reporting) in parliament has decreased rather than increased.”

Now, with the recent appointment of Bathabile Dlamini to the department, Thorpe adds: “What I would like to see is a women’s ministry that leads on women’s empowerment and the promotion of human rights for women. It’s my opinion that at a national level there is room for rethinking the way we address women’s issues and whether the Ministry of Women should be the only department that takes on the role of promoting women’s interests. I’d really like to see the uptake of promoting human rights for women across all departments.”

Feminism Is delves into how the contributors came to feminism. Dela Gwala writes: “Rape made me a feminist,” and Michelle Hattingh writes: “Feminism carved itself into my flesh.” Gabeba Baderoon and Genna Gardini turned to poetry to formulate their thoughts and feelings on the subject. Gardini says: “Poetry gave me a space to learn how to speak and think about politics. Through it I began to slowly tease out my understandings of feminism and intersectionality, to try to explain what I thought.”

What the collection does best is show that feminism is a diverse movement, and this means feminists must be respectful both on and off social media while listening to each other as the movement evolves and progresses.

In one of the most thought-provoking essays in the book, B Camminga reveals how interaction with Thorpe challenged and changed the initial direction of Feminism Is, leading it to become a collection composed of South African human beings, not just women. Camminga’s essay goes on to challenge readers to understand that gender is a social construct. The writer never reveals gender identity in the essay, due to the core belief: “Feminism is for every single body.” Camminga further argues: “The political task of feminism is to eradicate gender.” Regardless of whether you agree with Camminga’s views, the essay alone is worth the price of the book. @ms_tiahmarie

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