Titillating crime mystery

2011-12-28 00:00

IT’S been a long time since I read a book from cover to cover in a single day — especially as the book was written by an author I’m not familiar with. But from the minute I opened Gallows Hill I was hooked, and simply had to know how this superb thriller would end.

The fourth offering in Margie Orford’s Clare Hart series, it opens with a dog scavenging on an illegal building site in Cape Town. The scrawny creature uncovers a bone and drags it back to where her mistress, a homeless woman, is lying.

Minutes later the woman is dead, and when her corpse is found and the police are called in, it sets off a train of events which see scores of 200-year-old skeletons being uncovered in a mass grave on Gallows Hill. These were slaves, criminals and other people considered undesirable or of little importance to the rulers of the Cape Colony.

Further excavations uncover another body, a young woman in a silk dress, who was stuffed in a box and buried two and a half decades earlier.

Investigative profiler Dr Clare Hart is called in by Captain Riedwaan Faizal, of the SAPS elite gang unit, to try and find out who she is.

What she uncovers is a world of fine art, smuggling and politically motivated murder, which dates back to the dying days of apartheid. And those who were involved aren’t keen for her to shake things up.

Faizal, meanwhile, has his own problems — politicians, gangsters and dodgy deals among them — as he seeks answers to how the developers got permission to build on a historically sensitive site.

Orford draws her main characters brilliantly — they are flawed but dedicated people, who choose the hard road of truth instead of an easy one of bribery and corruption.

These characters, coupled with a familiar setting and a backdrop of crime and corruption, makes Gallows Hill a taut and superbly written thriller. Read it, read it now.

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