disappointingly formulaic

2011-12-28 00:00

WHILE local crime writing is something to be celebrated, I wonder if I’m the only reader who finds the gritty under­belly of Cape Town beginning to pall.

The weather is unremittingly awful, the baddies are irredeemably horrible, the private eyes have problems, whether it is drink (often), messy love lives (always) or physical disabilities (here a missing leg). It’s all getting to be a bit much. I mean, I like Cape Town.

Joanne Hichens’s first novel was co-authored with Mike Nicol, and I kept catching reminders of his Revenge trilogy in Divine Justice — for one, Hichens’s Rae Valentine and Nicol’s Mace Bishop both get their exercise and calm their minds swimming lengths. I half expected Valentine to meet Bishop in the pool.

I don’t want to be unfair — Divine Justice has interesting plot elements and is a slick bit of noir writing. PI Rae Valentine’s affair with ex-cop Mullet Mendes has ground to a halt, and he is up on a charge. She is trying to keep his detective agency running, with hindrance from the third partner, the drunken Vince. An old lady’s stolen jewellery doesn’t sound like a great case, but at least it’s a case, and so she takes it on. Only to find herself mixed up with a nutcase right-wing holy man, a seriously unpleasant psychopath and assorted low-lifes of the kind who proliferate in the fictional Mother City.

There is plenty of action, and the climax is unexpected, but there is just too much of the “been there, done that” stuff. It will be a pity if the local crime-thriller scene becomes an exercise in formulaic writing.

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