Book review of Random Violence

2009-01-28 00:00

South African crime fiction’s on a bit of a roll at the moment, and this is a creditable addition to the genre. It starts at a lonely smallholding outside Johannesburg, with what appears to be the botched hijacking of a solitary divorcee, Annette Botha, shot to death. Police Superintendent David Patel investigates, with the aid of Jade de Jong, daughter of his late commanding officer.

Jade is a smart and feisty heroine, a private security operative just returned from a spell out of the country, eager to renew old contacts in the security business and the underworld. She discovers that Annette had hired a private detective shortly before she died, and that this man has mysteriously disappeared: obviously there are sinister aspects to the case which place it outside the realm of just one more senseless crime. But this isn’t all she’s dealing with. On one hand the man who killed her father years before has just been released from prison, and revenge is very much on her mind. On the other, there’s David, a deliciously attractive man as well as an old friend in the same line of work. Why is he so standoffish?

Meanwhile we’re given a chilling view of the warped and bitter childhood, the crooked livelihood and the grisly pleasures of Annette’s murderer: an appalling villain in the classic mould.

Terrific ingredients here, and a master plotter such as Pietermaritzburg’s late lamented James McClure would have turned it all into a gobble-down page-turner. Mackenzie, despite clever construction, an excellent grasp of recent South African history, likeable and interesting characters and a slick, peppy and humorous style, doesn’t quite get there. Perhaps she tries to do too much in too small a space. Anyway, it’s a very readable first novel and one hopes for better things from her anon.

Stephanie Alexander

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