Chilling crime novel

2011-09-14 00:00

JASSY Mackenzie, one of the two ­current queens of South African crime (the other is Margie Orford), gets better with each outing of her series detective, P. I. Jade de Jong.

This time Jade is on holiday at a ­scuba resort near the St Lucia Estuary and, despite her deep-rooted anxieties about being underwater, is really ­trying to learn scuba diving, while waiting for her lover, police ­superintendent David Patel, to join her.

But nothing goes according to plan. Jade’s dive instructor is found brutally stabbed to death, and when Patel ­arrives he brings unwelcome news: the wife he had planned to divorce for Jade is pregnant with his child.

Even though Jade is hurt and furious and thoroughly fed-up with this ­miserable holiday gone wrong, she manages to set it all aside to work with Patel in the hunt for the killer. This task proves far from simple, for between them they uncover a massive ­organised-crime operation and a chain of events leading from a horror air crash in North Africa to the St Lucia world heritage site — which could, if Jade does not act swiftly and decisively in the face of great danger, be destroyed by a huge act of environmental sabotage.

It’s exciting stuff, well told: lively, ­interesting characters, authentic ­settings (including not only the resort and its environs, but Richards Bay, with its enormous docks), original ­ideas and deftly introduced sub-plots, and the ecological aspects meticulously researched and woven readably into the story — no instructive lectures or footnotes to annoy or distract the ­reader. Also, Mackenzie’s technique — pithy dialogue, clever timing and ­handling of mounting climaxes — is ­becoming more sophisticated with practice.

The only quibble I have is with some surprisingly lumpy and rather dated usages, such as the ­repeated use of ­“lady” for woman or female, as when a female police officer is many times referred to as a “lady constable”.

Mackenzie makes much in the ­acknowledgements of the competence of her editors, but they seem to have let her down here.


Worst Case

Jassy Mackenzie



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