More than a detective story

2008-10-22 00:00

BURNT-out teacher turned private eye Thabang Maje is hired to head off into the rural areas near Mafikeng where a primary school teacher has gone missing. They knew each other when they were both children growing up in a township, but have lost touch. He is not sure who has hired him, and when he gets to his destination, there are strange undercurrents and a sense that the other teachers, the children and the locals are all party to hidden secrets. And in the area, prostitutes working on the main highway into Botswana have been murdered — crimes for which there is no obvious suspect.

Maje, who in the manner of the best fictional detectives has his own issues to deal with, finds himself facing a world where old certainties have gone, and a new order is creating unforeseen problems. As one of the characters says: “We, as a young nation, are abolishing all the old social and cultural values, but we have nothing to replace them with. And into this empty space, ugly things are creeping.”

Diale Tlholwe, who has been both a teacher and a journalist, has created an elegant, short novel that ratchets up the tension as Maje investigates the disappearance —and comes face to face with the “ugly things”. The book is more than merely a page-turner of a detective novel. It is also an exploration of tensions between the modern and the traditional, but done in a way that is exciting, creating scenarios worthy of Indiana Jones. Local filmmakers could do much worse than to have a close look at Ancient Rites. And let’s hope we are going to hear more from Tlholwe.

Margaret von Klemperer

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