|UK cover, 2nd book|
A quick summary: Book 1 is A Beautiful Place to Die. Meet "English" police officer Detective Emmanual Cooper. He's good at the dance of politics and bias involved in his job -- which lets his partner in investigation, black Constable Shabalala, conduct much of the field work needed to assess the murder of an Afrikaner police chief. The murdered man's son explains Shabalala by saying he's "half Zulu, half Shangaan. Pa said the Shangaan part could track any animal, and the Zulu part was sure to kill it."
That mingling of respect and racism gives an instant view of 1952 South Africa, with apartheid a way of life and social structure a force of determination for life and action. Nunn draws in the added awkwardness of the local Jew as well, a refugee and discard from Europe.
But what makes her books sing is the dynamic and layered relationship of Cooper and Shabala, one that deepens and resonates through the difficult investigation. Flawlessly written, without a hint of "first book" to it, A Beautiful Place to Die goes to the top of my summer list of good reads.
|US cover, 2nd book|
Nunn allows delicately timed insights into Shabalala's life too, pairing them expertly with Cooper's and portraying the charged and complex inner and outer landscape of South Africa with such intensity that I could almost catch the scent of the city -- and of the veldt.
Now I'm going to start the 2011 Malla Nunn book, Blessed Are the Dead. Probably I should warn my husband: This mystery is going to take priority. Malla Nunn's crime fiction is a terrific discovery, and I'm going to be a bit distracted from ordinary life while I'm reading the next book. (But isn't that what a good mystery is for?)
A few notes:
*Nunn now lives in Australia and is also a filmmaker. For her publisher's "interview" with her, click here. For a video on her filmmaking, click here and look for the VIDEO section.
*In the US, Let the Dead Lie was issued as a paperback original. For a copy of the hardcover (the true first), you need to look at UK markets.
*For another South African apartheid detection series, set in the 1970s but written earlier than Nunn's, see James McClure (review here).
|Yours truly, and the Atria author bus.|