Clever Karoo crime novel

2009-07-29 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

Exhibit A

Sarah Lotz

Penguin

THIS is the kind of crime novel I have been longing for a South African writer to produce. Sure, the subject matter is grim and serious (and ­apparently based on a real case): the rape of a drunk and disorderly ­ ­suspect by a cop. But the execution is sharp and sparkling, and the wit outweighs the angst. And rather than grisly descriptions of events and forensics, we get smart repartee. I don’t want to get carried away: it’s not quite Raymond Chandler, but it’s on the way.

Nina is a mixed-up young woman who gets herself into the unkind hands of the police in a conservative Karoo town. Her sister Rachel calls in a favour from Georgie Allen, a shambolic Cape Town lawyer who, having been dumped by his ex, “The Witch”, seems unable to resist lame ducks.

He has problems with his practice, the dubious second-hand car ­dealing he does on the side, his housemates, his love life, Patrick the tight-fisted Scottish-born advocate who he works with, and above all, ­Exhibit A. This is a stray dog with disreputable and antisocial habits who worms his way into Georgie’s life, shedding hair and licking his genitals.

The trouble for Georgie is that he is no good at saying no when people ask for help. And Nina’s case is not a particularly promising one. She doesn’t look like being a good ­witness and — surprise, surprise — the cops seem to be closing ranks against her.

Patrick, Rachel and Georgie have their work cut out for them as they deal with a variety of potential ­witnesses, some hostile, some not.

However, they carry on constructing a case which eventually comes to court, providing a courtroom scene which is a slightly muted ­climax for what has gone before. But it gives the tale a nice authenticity, and rounds off what is a satisfying and welcome addition to the ­burgeoning local crime genre.

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