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Crime Beat: Krimi workshop on the Greek island of Lesbos

lesbosWanna write a thriller? And talk to other krimi writers? And laze in the sea? And drink wine? Then here’s the deal: A krimi workshop, June 7 to 14, on Lesbos, yes, the Greek island.

It’s part of The Talking Table series of workshops. Interested?

Here’s how things should run:

What I want to do with this seven-day workshop is to help you generate enough material to get your crime novel on the go. Not only should the workshop be a lot of fun as we will all be crime fiction addicts, but you’ll leave with your storyline, a plot, characters, in fact, everything you need to keep on writing your crime novel.

On the first day, the discussion will be about the crime novel: where it is today, what it does, what it can do. There are a range of ways into a crime story: there’s the cop procedural, the PI investigation, the gangster underworld; there’s state corruption, financial corruption, and murder most foul. If that doesn’t grab you, you might choose to focus on psychological conflict within relationships, stalkers, addicts, serial killers. Knowing the kind of story you want to write is the best start you can make.

The second day will focus on characters and setting. Both are important. Characters drive the story and because there is conflict between them you will never be at a loss for words. And then there is the setting: a sense of place is vital. Readers like living in imaginary worlds, those places found in the never-never land between reality and fiction.

Day three is about story and plot. We all need some sort of story no matter how vague it might be. Even something as simple as Sam kills Evelyn is the beginnings of a story. Consider all the questions: who is Sam? Who is Evelyn? Are they male or female? How do they meet? What happens between them? How does the crime occur? What happens next? And then comes the business of the plot, the way the story is told. Here there are those who want to plan the smallest detail or there are those – like me – who fly blind. Which is scary, and exciting.

Day four. The crime novel is the most democratic of novels. Characters talk to one another all the time. So day four is about that all important subject: dialogue. Nothing is more exciting than zipping through a dialogue exchange between two characters about to do one another serious grief.

By day five you’ll have a fair amount of material in your laptop. You’ll have characters with names; a setting where the action takes place, you’ll have an idea of your story, and even how that story will develop. So here’s were we get into that tricky part: how do you kickstart this story?

Day six, time to handle a bit of aggro. Writing violence is a challenge, even more of a challenge than writing sex. And, of course, you are going to have to write some sex too. This day gets down to the dirty stuff: choose your weapons – guns, knives, axes, bombs, bare hands, rope, poison.

On the final day we’ll give Frederik (our co-host who used to be a book publisher) some time to talk about the publishing scene and with a bit of luck we’ll also listen to the beginnings that have been so carefully crafted over the last two days.

There will be a number of short exercises during the course, some of which will happen in the workshop and some of which will be homework. Fear not, there’ll still be time for swimming, sitting about drinking wine, and dreaming up different ways to kill.

Just so you know a bit about me: I’ve run workshops on writing crime fiction at the University of Cape Town’s Summer School, a number of times at Bloody Book Week in Johannesburg along with Jeffery Deaver, John Connolly and Michael Robotham, at the Franschhoek Literary Festival, the Hermanus Fynarts Festival and the Knysna Literary Festival. I tutor online short courses in creative writing and non-fiction narratives for PenguinRandomHouse/GetSmarter, and together with editor Claire Strombeck run the Writers’ Masterclass – now in its sixth year. To date our writers have had five books published by leading publishers in South Africa and Germany with more due out this year.

For all the information about the krimi workshop check it out here.

Crime Beat: Our Mordant Krimis and Roger Smith on his latest

Here’s an interesting take on SA crime fiction by novelist Wamui Mbao: “Crime-by-numbers action in a loud dust-jacket, making mordant criticisms of the current government while taking great pains NOT to be about apartheid. May involve scenes from prison life that read suspiciously like they were culled from a Ross Kemp documentary.”

And here’s an interview Michael Sears did with Roger Smith in The Big Thrill about Smith’s latest: Nowhere.

NowhereRoger Smith is the master of South African Noir. His thrillers dig into the present and past of South Africa, and what the books come up with isn’t pretty. But they are enthralling and entirely believable. His fiction is published in eight languages, he has won the German Crime Fiction Award, and been nominated for Spinetingler Magazine Best Novel awards. Every one of his books is an important event. The latest one is NOWHERE. It opens with the president of South Africa—high on cognac—murdering his wife in their dining room. As the cover-up progresses, a variety of characters are sucked into the aftermath.

I asked Roger about the book and his feelings about the “new” South Africa.

You’ve been called “the crime genre’s greatest tragedian” and, indeed, there aren’t many happy endings in NOWHERE. Is this the way you see South Africa in the 21st century or is this how things are anywhere in the “real world”?

Read more…


Crime Beat: the KrimiZeit monthly list

How amazing is this? Probably a first. Three South African crime novels in Zeitonline’s top ten list for the month of January. Okay, Deon Meyer was there last month, too, with Icarus but he’s now joined by Malla Nunn at spot number 5 with her third novel, Blessed Are the Dead, and Paul Mendelson at number 9 with his first Cape Town-based krimi,  The First Rule of Survival.

One of the best international guides for the most original crime fiction is to be found on the KrimiZeit monthly listings.

Die zehn besten Kriminalromane im Januar 2016

Jeden ersten Donnerstag im Monat geben Literaturkritiker und Krimispezialisten die Romane bekannt, die ihnen am besten gefallen haben.
DIE ZEIT Nr. 2/2016, 7. Januar 2016
1(1) Fred Vargas: Das barmherzige Fallbeil
Aus dem Französischen von Waltraud Schwarze; Limes, 512 S., 19,99 €.Paris, Island. Bei den Leichen vorgeblicher Selbstmörder entdeckt Adamsbergs Brigade die Zeichnung einer Guillotine, Hinweis auf einen Geheimbund von Robespierre- und Revolutionsdarstellern. Doch Adamsberg zieht es zum Polarkreis. “Die Revolution frisst ihre Kinder” in der arktischen Version, made by Fred Vargas.

2(2) Richard Price: Die Unantastbaren
Aus dem Englischen von Miriam Mandelkow; S. Fischer, 432 S., 24,99 € .

New York. Detective Billy Graves, Nachtschicht Manhattan, navigiert zwischen konkurrierenden Fixpunkten: Liebe, Rache, Solidarität, Schuld, the law. Gejagt von einem Stalker, selbst voller Zweifel an und voller Liebe zu seinen Ex-Kollegen. Fünf Cops und ihre Dämonen: Sittenbild in Nahaufnahme. Stark.

3(7) Adrian McKinty: Gun Street Girl
Aus dem Englischen von Peter Torberg; DuMont, 304 S., 14,99 €

Belfast 1985. Die Eltern, der Sohn, die Freundin – alle umgebracht, professionell, als Selbstmord getarnt. DI Sean Duffy stochert im vierten Band der Serie erneut in den Geheimdienstsümpfen, die sich zwischen Belfast, London und den USA erstrecken. Bester historischer Stoff, das heißt bedenkenswert aktuell.

4(3) Oliver Bottini: Im weißen Kreis
DuMont, 304 S., 14,99 €.

Freiburg, Stuttgart 2006. Kommissarin Louise Bonì, trocken seit drei Jahren, stößt auf ein Waffengeschäft, landet im nationalsozialistisch kluxenden Untergrundsumpf und kämpft aussichtslos an zwei Fronten: gegen den deutschen Verfassungsschutz und um das Leben eines traurigen Mannes aus Ruanda.

5(–) Malla Nunn: Tal des Schweigens
Aus dem Englischen von Laudan & Szelinski; Ariadne, 318 S., 13,– €.

Drakensberge, Südafrika 1953. DS Cooper und DC Shabalala sollen den Mord an einer schwarzen Land-Schönheit aufklären – die Arschkarte für Kriminalisten im Apartheid-Staat. Fallstricke überall: Zulu-Traditionen, Rassisten-Traditionen, Frauenunterdrückung sowieso. Behutsam, fein und klug: Nunn.

6(–) Tito Topin: Exodus aus Libyen
Aus dem Französischen von Katharina Grän; Distel Literaturverlag, 233 S., 14,80 €.

Libyen 2011. Acht Menschen fliehen vor dem Bürgerkrieg, bloß raus. Zwangsstopp in einer umkämpften Wüstenstadt. Jetzt müssen sie sich ihrer persönlichen Wahrheit stellen. Was hat Gaddafis “Verderbtheit” aus ihnen gemacht? Wie frei können sie werden? Der erste Kriminalroman der “Arabellion”.

7(8) Jeong Yu-jeong: Sieben Jahre Nacht
Aus dem Koreanischen von Kyong-Hae Flügel; Unionsverlag, 524 S., 19,95€.

Auf dem Land in Südkorea. Seit sieben Jahren wird Sowon aus Schulen und von Arbeitsplätzen vertrieben. Er ist der Sohn des “Stausee-Monsters”, das eine Staumauer öffnete und Hunderte Menschen umbrachte. Wie es so weit kommen konnte, erzählt Jeong meisterhaft und voller Einsicht in seelische Verwirrungen.

8(–) Karin Slaughter: Cop Town
Aus dem Englischen von Klaus Berr; Blanvalet, 544 S., 14,99 €.

Atlanta 1974. Der “Shooter” legt Polizisten um. Slaughter erzählt das alte “Gute Cops gegen böse Cops” als Emanzipationslegende. Proletin Maggie und jüdisches middle class girl Kate raufen sich zusammen gegen rassistische, homophobe, misogyne, saufende Machos mit “Schweinsäuglein”.

9(–) Paul Mendelson: Die Unschuld stirbt, das Böse lebt
Aus dem Englischen von Jürgen Bürger; Rowohlt Polaris, 480 S., 14,99 €.

Kapstadt. Vor sieben Jahren sind drei Jungen verschwunden, jetzt werden zwei als Leichen aufgefunden, missbraucht, unterernährt. Kein Gejaule über Gut, Böse, Seele oder Soziales: Mendelson konzentriert sich in seinem Krimidebüt nüchtern auf Fakten und Handlungen: Ermittlungen, Spuren, Szenen. Prima.

10(9) Deon Meyer: Icarus
Aus dem Afrikaans von Stefanie Schäfer; rütten& loening, 430 S., 19,99 €.

Kapstadt. Bennie Griessel war trocken, bis sich sein Kollege erschoss. Jetzt sind die Geister aus der Flasche. In mehrfacher Hinsicht: Griessels Mordermittlungen spielen in Südafrikas Weinwirtschaft. Und unter Überfliegern, kurz nach dem raschen Sturz.

Crime Beat: Killer dames in SA krimis

A few years ago Swiss academic at the University of Zurich, Sabine Binder, spent time at the University of Stellenbosch doing research into South African crime fiction. She recently published a paper called Female killers and gender politics in contemporary South African crime fiction: Conversations with crime writers Jassy Mackenzie, Angela Makholwa, and Mike Nicol in The Journal of Commonwealth Literature. Here is the abstract. Payment is required for the pdf version. Articles dealing with this topic – gender and violence – have also appeared in the Journal of Southern African Studies and by Professor Sam Naidu in Current Writing.

Social analysis is part and parcel of South African crime fiction,1 a genre which has been flourishing since the end of apartheid. Interrogating the country’s high levels of gender-based violence, various South African crime writers explore gender issues in their fiction.2 Critically-acclaimed crime writers Jassy Mackenzie, Angela Makholwa, and Mike Nicol stand out in this field through their creations of instantly memorable female serial killers as protagonists.

In the interviews that follow, the three writers discuss the rationales behind their choice of a traditionally masculine role for their female protagonists, how they navigated through ensuing ethical problems and their characters’ potential for uncomfortable reader identification, but also virulent issues of gender in contemporary South African society. They argue that since assertions of power have so long been connected to assertions of masculinity, performing the male role of the killer is a way for their female figures to move to a place of power. Thus, their protagonists’ perpetrating agency enables them to be the equals — if not superiors — of the men they interact with.3 Moreover, it empowers them to act as renegades who contest the dominant power and who are generally in control in an environment which is rife with inequality and where women more often than not are the victims of crime. In this way, besides being a means to explore female perpetrating agency, the figure of the female killer also has the potential to transform the way readers of crime fiction view women.4


Crime Beat: An extract from The Scream of the Butterfly by Jakob Melander

scream of the butterflyjakob melanderSome Nordic Noir from Jakob Melander, published today in Canada and the US.


THE DARKNESS HANGS over Grosse Freiheit — the horny mile, the beating heart of St. Pauli and Hamburg. The street exudes raw, pent-up desire and hungry eyes. Coloured lights and neon signs span a gaudy canopy across the narrow road. It’s a circus, a freak show. Men and women stroll up and down: standing, posing, chatting or displaying themselves, alone or in small clusters. Everything is permitted and can be bought or viewed. Further ahead, at number 36, young people, boys and girls her own age wearing leather and make-up, are waiting to be admitted to tonight’s concert.

There are speed freaks, old queers, and teenagers high on poppers and vodka-laced apple juice. The cocaine flows freely; the night is beautiful and terrible.

She sashays down the sidewalk in white stilettos, power-clicking her heels, moving in and out between the groups, the tourists, and the desperate. She is at ease and confident: this is her turf, this is her family.

“Serafine?” A six-foot-five drag queen grabs her. They kiss on both cheeks and he offers her a cigarette. “I haven’t seen you for ages. Jürgen and I thought, you were . . . well, you know.” He laughs, flaring his nostrils, and flicks his long hair.

She waves her cigarette in the air.

“Had to find somewhere else to live. The old place had become too gross.”

He touches her dress lightly.

“You look gorgeous. Are you working tonight?” Then he gets excited. “Are you going to Georg’s party later? Everyone will be there. It’ll be so decadent.”

Serafine leans closer and whispers, “Might be. Have you seen Doctor Stromberg?”

“The street-doc? But what do you want with him, sweetie?” She runs her hand across her cheek, the latest acne breakout hidden beneath foundation and powder. She knows it doesn’t show, but the thing between her legs rages inside her body, ripping it apart. Soon her voice will break and she’ll get hairs everywhere.

“You know —”

“Sera, stay away from that Scheisse.” She clicks her tongue.

“But have you seen him?”

“Someone came by just now, saying he was backstage. You could always try there.” He nods scornfully in that direction, but then he softens and smiles.

They air kiss and she crosses the street, waltzing under the neon sign with the elephant and into the darkness, where any- thing could happen. She greets the cloakroom attendant, Valeria, and continues into the twilight. The backstage area is a chaos of stagehands, and topless women wearing make-up and selling cigarettes. Helga and Roxette wave as she enters. They are on shortly. Helga is crawling into the coffin where she will hide until she rises just at the right moment, wrapped in a vampire’s cloak. Roxette is playing the grieving widow, dressed all in white — and with deep cleavage. Serafine waves back, mouths good luck and blows a kiss, then turns right. She spots Horst, the stage manager, with his shiny bald head and his cheeks glowing red. In the dressing room, the usual eight to ten women and trans- sexuals sit in various stages of undress. The room is filled with flesh-coloured underwear, mirrors, cigarettes, alcohol, make- up, and powder — both for the cheeks and the nose. The smell of female sweat and the female sex. Oh, how she yearns for it. The wooden floor creaks under her stilettos.

Doctor Stromberg sits in a corner wrapped in his coat, his pale face sweating behind his glasses. Juliana hands him the money; he pushes a small wrapper across the table in return, which immediately disappears into her pants.

“Serafine?” Juliana turns to her. “You’re not usually here this early.” Juliana is a friend. She took her under her wing the moment she started working here almost a year ago.

“I just want a word with the doctor.” She starts to shake. What if he says no? She sits down besides Juliana, too scared to look at Doctor Stromberg. Juliana gives her a quick squeeze, and doesn’t say anything.

“What do you need?” The doctor’s voice is coarse. It doesn’t fit his sweaty face and glasses. She raises her head.

He has to . . . “Pills. For —” But she can’t even make herself continue.

Doctor Stromberg, however, can tell just from looking at her. “Estrogen? It’s not good for you. You know that, don’t you?” “What other way is there? Not taking it?” The rage surprises even her. “Sandra killed herself last week. Angie tried last month.” She says nothing more.

“How much, doctor?” Juliana asks the question for her. The other girls have stopped talking, and stare at their reflection in the mirror, pretending they are not there.

“An initial dose for one week is a hundred and fifty. You should probably expect to pay three hundred euros per week later on.”

Three hundred euros a week? How will she get that kind of money?

Doctor Stromberg licks his thin lips.

“Or you could always get an appointment with a psychiatrist, who might refer you for public health treatment. After all, that’s free.”

Her heart sinks. She knows it is not an option. She has lived here in Hamburg illegally for seven years now.

“No, I’ll find the money. Here.” She opens her make-up bag, taking out the crumbled notes and counts them. “Here’s a hundred and fifty. When will I need to increase the dosage?”

Doctor Stromberg opens his bag and takes out a small jar.


Later in the evening, once she has finished, she says goodbye to Juliana and the other girls. The jar with Doctor Stromberg’s pills is in her make-up bag. She has already taken the first pill. She can’t feel anything yet, but she is on her way. The butterfly wings flutter inside.

The show went like clockwork. She sang old German pop songs but didn’t strip. The old gays adore her. But what will happen to her once her voice breaks? Who’ll want to listen to her then? And three hundred euros? How will she get that kind of money?

The crowd outside has grown in number, their hunger a bleeding wound in the night. All veils have been dropped. The first drunks have fallen asleep in the gutter. Teenagers ramble about with their arms around each other’s necks. Further up the street, near the Reeperbahn, beefy bouncers with icy gazes shovel tourist flesh into the strip joints.

Should she go to Georg’s party? The only thing waiting for her at home is a cold, damp room with a tiny window over-looking a lightwell. Her life is confined to seven square metres, filled with a few bottles of rum and tequila. She never gets drunk in public; only at home alone does she dare to let go.

She takes out her cigarettes and lights up. Two country boys stop and stare. They’re drunk, unpleasant.

Serafine clicks her tongue, turns away.

“So how about it, hun? How much for a blow job?”

“Are you gay or what?” says the other one. The first one laughs so hard he buckles. This is a clearly a change of scenery from the turnip fields.

“Why don’t you two assholes go back to the barn and suck each other off? After all, that’s what you really want to do.” The country boys’ heads jerk back. She knows that the contradiction between her high-pitched voice and her language makes most people bridle.

“No need for you to be sassy.” The bigger of them steps closer. His gaze has taken on a different hue; the brutality simmers just beneath the surface. It’s time to leave. Serafine turns, sashaying away from them as fast as she can in her high heels. She might be able to escape them at the rock club, as long as one of the bouncers she knows is on duty.

A hand lands on her shoulder, forcing her to turn around. “Don’t you —” He gets no further. The bigger of the two
freezes halfway through his sentence, then releases his hold on her. Two other faces appear behind the country boys.

It has been a long time, but it’s them, there’s no doubt. She reverses quickly into the crowd, only just managing to see the country boys pushed out of the way. She catches a glimpse of the black barrel of a gun. Then her uncles are either side of her, frogmarching her across the street and into Dollhouse Diner.

“Ukë? Meriton?” She looks from one to the other. “What about —”

“Oh, they ran away.” Meriton grins and sits down in a booth, placing himself on the outside. Ukë waddles up to the bar. He certainly hasn’t lost any weight since she last saw him in Copenhagen.

“What are you doing here?” She tries to look relaxed. What do they want?

“Looking for you.” Meriton’s gaze scans the diner. He doesn’t look at her. Ukë returns with Franziskaner vom Fass beers for him and Meriton, and a cola for her.

Meriton and Ukë clink their glasses.

“We thought we had lost you, Arbën.” Ukë wipes the froth off his chin. His tiny eyes are fixed on her, blinking. Meriton takes over.

“Dora and Bekim couldn’t find you. And then we discover you’ve been here all along . . . in the red light district.”

Meriton gives her the look. She has brought shame on the family. The blood curdles into frosty lumps in her veins. Anything could happen now, but the odds are that she will be found with her hands tied behind her back in the Elbe River tomorrow morning. She turns her gaze inward and leaves her body, as she has trained herself to do. The same way she did when she ran away from Dora and Bekim.

But they don’t hit her. Instead, Ukë hushes Meriton. “There, vëlla. Arbën needs us. And we need him.” He turns
to her. “If we can find you, so can he. No more performing, do you understand? We need you alive.”

“But —”

“No. It’ll be like we said.”

She clutches her make-up bag and the jar of pills, refusing to back down.

“I need money.”

Meriton turns and looks at her for the first time. “For what? Drugs?” His gaze is contemptuous.
What can she do? Would they understand? She hunches her shoulders and stammers as she begins to explain about her body and the pills. When she has finished, Meriton snorts. Ukë says nothing and twirls his empty glass around and around. Eventually he looks up.

“Three hundred euros? A week? That’s a lot of money.” “I don’t know how else to get it.”

Ukë’s eyes narrow again.

“If you agree to stop performing, we’ll send you seven hundred euros every week. Then you’ll have enough for food. I guess you have rent to pay as well?”

“Are you mad? Seven hundred euros?” Meriton squeezes his glass and stares at the remaining beer at the bottom. His face has gone red.

“Now, now, vëlla. It’s still a good business. And we won’t have to pay Bekim and Dora any more.”

Ukë thrusts his hand into the pocket of his sweatpants, finds a greasy bundle of notes, and counts out seven hundred euros. “Here. This is for the first week. Remember: no more per- forming. And you must promise to keep in touch. Meriton, give him the phone and the bank card.”

Meriton is still sulking, but pulls out a cell phone and a Commerzbank card, then slides both across the table to her.

“You’ll use it only to text the number in the contact list every week when you’ve withdrawn the cash from the bank. Do you understand?”

This excerpt is taken from The Scream of the Butterfly copyright ⓒ 2015 Jakob Melander and Rosinate & Co., Copenhagen, Denmark. English translation copyright ⓒ 2015 Charlotte Barslund. First published in Denmark as Serafine in 2014 by Rosinate & Co. Published in Canada and the United States in 2015 by House of Anansi Press Inc.

What’s been said about The Scream of the Butterfly:

“A fantastic and hell-bent finale, you simply won’t see coming … Say hello to several nights without much sleep.” – Nordjyske

The Scream of the Butterfly is an ambitious crime novel that succeeds in almost every department.” –Politiken

“With The Scream of the Butterfly Melander underscores, that he is one of the new, big names in Danish crime fiction.” – Berlingske

Visit Jakob Melander’s website here.

Crime Beat: A Nordic visit

jakob melanderthe house that jack builtJakob Melander is one of the rising stars in the Nordic Noir firmament. He did a number of gigs in Cape Town during the Open Book festival in September and that’s excuse enough to give him an outing here. His first novel was The House that Jack Built and his second, The Scream of the Butterfly, is about to be published in English. An extract will be posted on Crime Beat on Thursday. Check out Jakob’s website here.  Here’s his top ten list of crime novelists, and two movies:

Sjöwall og Wahlöö: The Story of a Crime.
Ten Swedish crime novels with the chief of Homicide Martin Beck, that came to define Scandinavian crime fiction and Nordic Noir. All ten novels contain social commentary and critique of the Scandinavian social democratic welfare state, but are equally important for their great stories, their discussion of the role of men in Scandinavia and an all-encompassing melancholic Nordic tone. Undeniably written in it’s time, but mandatory reading nonetheless.

James Ellroy: Underworld USA
A trilogy on the USA in the late 1950s and s1960s, the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King – with the the interwoven complicity of the mob, FBI, politics and Hollywood celebrity. Deeply disturbing (and probably very close to the truth), it is written in Ellroy’s marked short-cropped style. Every sentence seems to jump at the reader, filled with suppressed violence and yet  with a sinister poetry all of it’s own.

Dostoyevsky: Crime and Punishment
One of the true classics. Dostoyevsky’s novel is by no means a whodunnit – we know the killer and his motives even well before the murder. But as a study of the human mind and the compulsion to confess, this is indispensable.

Jo Nesbø: The Redeemer
Norwegian crime great. This, to me, is Harry Hole at his finest. A complex story that twists and turns through a snowclad, ice-glistening Oslo. The motive is completely believable and tactile and the resolution of the plot so deftly done that this writer will dare you to guess it before the very end.

Edgar Allan Poe: The Murders in the Rue Morgue
The first modern detective, and the first writer to use the modern metropolis as a backdrop to his crime story. This short-story (one of only three with detective mastermind Auguste Dupin) has all the landmarks that Conan Doyle later used in his stories about Sherlock Holmes, from the not-so-bright-as-the-detective narrator/sidekick, via the formidable mind of the detective himself down to the resolution of the case from an armchair – here we have it all (plus the use of the classifieds in the evening newspaper. And including the opening sequence through the streets of Paris with the perceived mind-reading that is later perfectly explained. This is the birth of modern crime fiction with it’s roots in and fascination with horror and the macabre. All in one short story. Nicely done!

Sophocles: Oedipus Rex – the first detective story, in which the detective’s investigation uncovers that he himself is the killer. ‘Nuff said!

Phillip Kerr: Berlin Noir Trilogy
The English thriller writer Phillip Kerr’s series about German police officer Bernie Günther in the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany. Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler in Berlin from 1928 to just before WWII. A great picture of Berlin, the evolution of the Nazi regime and top-notch crime stories. After the first three novels Kerr has written several more, but it’s the first three that really stand out. As they say in German: Gefundenes Fressen!

Robert Harris: Red Dragon 
The novel that spawned Hannibal Lecter. There are many similarities with the sequel, The Silence of the Lambs, here. But this is even more chilling, and Francis Dollarhyde is a character you will not likely forget. Plus this is the novel that came to define the serial-killer novel while at the same time transgressing the genre. No mean feat.

And then two movies:
Sean Penn: The Pledge  (after Dürrenmatt’s novel Das Versprechen)

A police officer, on the eve of retirement, promises the parents of a murdered girl that he will find their daughter’s killer. A haunting portrait of a man (impersonated by a frighteningly good Jack Nicholson) who looses himself and his humanity to one all-engulfing quest. Do NOT miss the scene at the Turkey farm where Nicholson tells the elderly couple that their ten-year old daughter has been brutally killed.

Roman Polanski: China Town (with an original script by Robert Towne)
Arguably the best detective movie ever made. Set in LA in the thirties the movie features haunting performances by Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston. The plot in this tragic story about how doing something can actually be worse than doing nothing, seems much more complicated than it really is, and it is quite the perfect mix of European sensibility and American efficiency.

Crime Beat: Extracts from this year’s krimis: (7) Icarus by Deon Meyer

deon meyerIcarus by Deon Meyer
Chapter 48icarus

At 22:52 Major Mbali Kaleni’s cellphone rang.

“I’m sorry to call you at home, Mbali,” said Brigadier Musad Manie, commander of the Hawks in the Western Cape.

“I’m at the office, sir,” she said with a touch of reproof in her tone.

Manie understood his commander of the Serious and Violent Crimes group well. He knew better than to let this bother him. “Anything I should know?”

“No, sir. I’m waiting for my team to get back. They’ve just left Stellenbosch.”

“Any progress?”

“Captain Cupido should give me a full report within an hour, sir. They have put in a lot of work, but I don’t think there is a solid suspect yet.”

“Okay, Mbali … I’ve had a call from our National Commissioner. Now, I just want to let you know, I’ll manage it from my side, but . . . This thing about the database, you know, the clients of that company, the guy on Twitter making the names public . . .”

“Yes, sir, Captain Cloete has been keeping me posted.”

“Okay. The Commissioner says she is getting a lot of pressure from . . . well, from higher up, if you know what I mean.” He broached the topic warily: he had a strong suspicion what Kaleni’s reaction was going to be. “Now, I’m not . . .”

“Sir, I will not have my team distracted by . . .”

“Major, please, let me finish. I’m not saying you should do anything about it. I will manage it from my side, as I said. I just wanted to let you know, there is pressure, and there is concern. The word is that there is a member of parliament who has been contacted by the press in this regard, a very respected member of Parliament, a husband and a father. And apparently, this member of parliament is completely innocent, and is being implicated as part of a smear campaign by the oppo . . .”

“Sir, I do not believe that . . .”

“Me neither. But that’s not the point. I have to report back in the morning, and all I’m asking is, if there is any information pertaining to this leak of the database, please let me know.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Thank you, Mbali.”


Griessel drove back with Cupido. The Bottelary road was quiet at this time of night.

Cupido prepared his speech. Only beyond Devonvale was he ready to talk to Griessel.

“You know I’m your friend, Benna?”

Griessel sighed; he could guess where this was leading. “Vaughn, I don’t want to talk about the booze.”

“You don’t have to. I just want to make a speech; use it, don’t use it, your choice, it’s a free country. But if I’m your friend, it’s my duty, wraggies, Benna. Friendship is not saying the things you want to hear, but the things you need to hear. I understand this thing with Vollie Fish, Benna. And man, I understand the thing about The Giraffe getting killed. These things stick to a man’s clothes. Remember Barry Brezinsky of Narcotics? Barry the Whole Pole? Gunned down in his driveway just before he could testify? I was on that same case with him, Benna, he was the lead investigator, big drug syndicate. That morning I was standing next to his car, Barry dead there inside, blood everywhere, and his wife and children standing in the doorway and they didn’t cry, Benna, they just stared, with that look that says we don’t know what the fok we’re going to do now, the future had just evaporated, there was just desolation stretching out in front of them. Took me two years to get over it, he was like a bru’ to me, he was my mentor, Benna, from a wet-behind-the-ears constable, he made me the detective that I am. Lots of anger after Barry, I’m telling you now, a hell of a lot of anger, I wanted to go out and round up all the dealers and suppliers and beat each and every one to death with a blunt instrument. So I know the feeling. But I went to see a shrink, and he helped me a lot, Benna. There’s no shame …”

“I did see a shrink, Vaughn.”

“Go back, Benna.”

“She can’t help me.”

“But do you want to be helped, Benna?”

“Fuck you, Vaughn.”

“That’s okay. Let the anger come out. I can handle it. But let me say a few things you really don’t want to hear, ek sê dit in friendship, Benna, een dag sal jy versta. Do you really want to be helped? Really? ‘Cause why, I scheme it’s a handy excuse. Shrink can’t help, so I  drink. Fact is …”

“An excuse, Vaughn? An excuse? You have no fokken idea …”

“Fact is, the shrink can help …”

“How, Vaughn? How? How the fok can the shrink help? Is she just going to whip out a magic wand …? Did you … Why did Vollie Fish shoot his wife and children? Do you know why? Because I know, Vaughn. I know exactly. I know what he knew. And he knew he couldn’t hold it back any more. It was coming closer, growing bigger. More and more. When Frank asked tonight what are the big motives for murder, didn’t it make you think, Vaughn? Take the money motive, just the money motive, the house robberies, and street robberies and farm robberies and cash-in-transit robberies and shopping centre robberies and autobank robberies, more and more and more of them. And all of them more violent. It’s a cycle, Vaughn, the children seeing violence and experiencing violence since they were only this high, it’s what they know, it’s what they become. It’s not their fault, it’s their world. How are we going to save them? How are we going to turn this around? There are people streaming in over our borders, Vaughn, to come and rob us, because there’s money here, there’s progress here. We can’t stop the tide, it’s not ever going to draw back, you know how the world looks. And everything is on the rise, not just robbery. Domestic violence, revenge, everything just gets worse. The disease, the serial killers, more, every day there are more of them, and they are getting sicker, Vaughn. It’s like a … I don’t know, this moerse train that’s just picking up speed. The brakes are fucked, Vaughn – we are the brakes, and we are fucked …”

“How can you say that?” Cupido forgot about his carefully prepared speech; he was angry now. “You’re taking on my pride now. How many ouens have you and I put in tjoekie, this past year? How many? The SAPS, every day? Why are the courts so full, Benna, if we’re fucked? And the jails? That’s bullshit, Benna, we are a long way from being fucked …”

“How many dockets …”

“No, now you have to give me a chance, ‘cause that argument of yours won’t fly. “Cause crime is increasing we all have to sit and drink? That’s your solution? You think it’s an …”

“That’s not what I’m saying …”

“Now what are you saying, Benna? That just you can sit and suip, and the rest of us must struggle against crime? You think this is a unique situation here with us? Look at all the mighty First World countries, Benna. Take America. War on drugs, for decades, and they are losing it, in their moer in. Must they just sit back and suip, hey? D’you know how many boatloads of poor immigrants arrive there with them, in all those European countries? You think their crime is dropping? It’s the state of the world. If this job was easy, then anyone could do it. But no, anyone can’t do it. We can. We are the Hawks, pappie, the cream of the crop, best of the best. And you, Benny Griessel, you’re the best cop I know. By a long shot. When you’re sober. But now your head is full of all sorts of shit, and you like it, ‘cause it’s a lekker excuse for a dop. So, as your pal, as the ou who likes and respects you, I’m telling you tonight, man up, Benna. Grow a pair. Go back to that shrink and tell her, you’re not giving up therapy until your head is clean.”

Griessel said nothing.

Cupido tried to get his feelings back under control. When he spoke again, his voice was quieter, calmer: “Where’s the booze going to take you, Benna?”

Still Griessel was silent.

“Just think about it. Where’s the booze going to take you?”


At half past eleven Griessel found a place in Long Street that was still open. He quickly drank one double Jack at the counter, then he drove home. His body told him he should have had another one, but he controlled the thirst – he kept to the agreement he had made with himself, there beside Cupido.

He parked in the street in front of Alexa’s house. The lights were still on. He had expected that. He remained sitting. How was he going to handle it? After being so totally pissed last night, after he had ignored her calls and SMSes the whole day?

It depended on which Alexa he was going to find inside.

He got out, locked the car, and went in.

Alexa sat waiting for him in the sitting room.

“Hello, Benny,” she said. There was relief in her voice. He could see the tension in her body and mouth, but also the control, and he was grateful for it. He was suddenly, overwhelmingly aware of his love for her. He stood in no-man’s-land between the door and where she sat. He knew she would smell the alcohol if he kissed her, but he badly wanted to. They both needed it.

Her eyes were on him. He went to her, bent, kissed her. Her hands were behind his head, she pressed his lips hard against hers and kissed him for a long time.

“Your mouth tastes like paradise,” she said. She gave him a crooked smile, her eyes moist. “Thank God you’re not drunk.”

It was not at all what he had expected. Suddenly he was emotional again, because he didn’t deserve this mercy. Until he realised it might be a strategy, agreed between her and Doc Barkhuizen. Let him say what he wanted to say. He straightened up again. “I’m going back to the psychiatrist, when this case is over.”

“Okay.” She said it so quietly that he could barely hear her. “I’m glad.”

“Until then I will drink, but I won’t get so drunk again.”

She didn’t react. He knew it was because she was also an alcoholic. Any prediction about how you were going to handle alcohol was ridiculous. That was the first of the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Steps, the recognition that you were powerless against drink; that your life was out of control. But tonight he had only drunk one double. He could do it again.

“Then rather come and drink at home. Just don’t leave the booze here. Keep it in your car.”

He thought about it. For a moment it seemed like a wonderful possibility, a solution, but then he realised that it would be incredibly selfish of him. To sit and drink in front of her, knowing she also longed for the same release.

He just nodded. He wanted to change the subject, he wanted the normality of their before-booze-life back, he wanted to ask: “How was your day?” but he couldn’t, because he knew her day had been hell.

“Have you eaten?” she asked and got up out of her chair slowly.


Click through to Deon Meyer’s website here
Buy Icarus here

What reviewers have said about Icarus:

Michele Magwood for the Sunday Times:

Meyer has perfected structure and pace, reveals and red herrings, chapter beats, plot and subplot but he enriches the story with fascinating detail …

He salts Icarus with Tinder and other social media, and introduces us to “zero-day vulnerabilities”, the hidden back doors in computer software that hackers can use to hijack data. He lays bare the racket of the old KWV, “the narrow-minded, strict, conservative, prescriptive, rule-bound, Broederbond-controlled wine farmer’s co-operative, which at that time was merely an extension of the apartheid government.” He also draws aside the curtain on the international wine trade. In latter books Meyer has deepened his characterisation. Here he brings in a golden boy who is a psychopath and another young man on the autistic spectrum, a brilliant computer programmer who has “social interaction issues”.
The Crime Warp

Meyer’s writing brought South Africa to life for me again. When I read Cobra, I got a real sense of place and atmosphere. In Icarus it’s even stronger, with vivid pictures of physical locations as well as little character quirks, cultural attitudes and vignettes of detail that add real depth the portrayal of South African life in the novel.

Final verdict – don’t delay, just get it as soon as you can. I’ve even asked Mrs Romancrimeblogger for the earlier Benny Griessel novels for my birthday. Enough said!

Every once in a while there comes along a writer, an already accomplished storyteller, who grows into the stature of a great writer through one wonderful story. That author is Deon Meyer; the story he has masterfully crafted is Icarus. It is an unbelievably fine piece of storytelling, just as much rooted in history and family as it’s setting in the modern world of Internet millionaires…

It has wit, passion, envy, family, courage… it has a little of everything and it will keep you guessing till the very end. The rich ensemble of characters are a pleasure to meet. Above all there is Benny. Benny who is all too vividly human.

South African crime novelist Meyer delivers another expertly crafted thriller that feels exceptionally timely, given its focus on the high-tech and wine industries.
Publishers Weekly

The richness of the characters, especially the multifaceted Benny, elevates this above most contemporary police procedurals.
The Bowed Bookshelf

His books have a richness and specificity that bring South Africa (and crimes committed there) vividly to life …

Joan Hambidge on FMR:

The novel constantly moves on two levels. And Meyer is able to keep all these balls in the air in this fascinating crime novel

Give Deon Meyer a Bell’s!

Elmari Rautenbach in Rapport:

Meyer shows his mastery in the characterisation. And nowehere so as when you see how a character comes to life under his touch.

In ICARUS, the peripheral characters get their turn. There is warmth and depth, but especially sparkle when he turns the now familiar members of the Hawks team into human beings: Bones, the numbers man, Mooiwillem and his touch with women, Lithpel Davids, Uncle Fankie, Vusi taking care of his mother. The Forensic Analysts Thick and Thin – “the Eagles to you Hawks” – who needle everybody like two stand-up comedians.

But above all, this is the story of Vaughn Cupido … With Benny boozing, he has to take charge of the investigation. And he ponders being alone, and taking responsibility for the first time.

That does not stop him from saying what he has to say (as authentic as all the characters), in his unique way. In an unguarded moment, he tells ‘Benna’: “The heart of the matter is, I can’t be Vaughn the Terrible, if you aren’t Benny the Sober. It’s like that line in the movies – you complete me.” With Benny answering drily: “And now you’re going to kiss me.”

Cupido and Griessel. What a pair. What a team. Because eventually, people make the story. And these two can hold a candle to the best in the world.

Crime Beat: Extracts from this year’s krimis: (6) Hour of Darkness by Michele Rowe

michele rowehour of darknessHour of Darkness by Michele Rowe

Fred turned off Baden Powell Drive onto the M17, heading away from False Bay. He crossed Spine Road and drove on, flanked on the left by shrubby dunes. It was 5.30 a.m. No sign of cars or people, sunny morning, and already quite hot. Last night’s rain had transformed the sunnier dunes, and tiny daisies and vygies splashed the sand yellow, purple and white.

He’d packed his rods on the roof and told Natasha he was going fishing past Sunrise Beach. She never questioned where he went and what he did, knowing it was none of her business.

After 16th Avenue, he kept an eye out for the inconspicuous dirt road that crossed the dunes between Baden Powell Drive and the pans. There was no sign to indicate that it led to the Strandfontein Sewage Works. It was seldom used and no one was likely to be around there at this time. He hoped the tsotsi had understood the directions.

They’d had an earlier confusing phone call. That was the trouble with these kinds of jobs: vague instructions, tenuous connections to inexperienced township small-timers who did not have a clue about how to run a job, all so fucking unprofessional. Ten-a-penny small-fry thugs picked up at taxi ranks who got a hard-on at the thought of two grand to kill someone. He shook his head. The guy had been recommended by one of Ricardo’s bodyguards; was a relative in all likelihood. Cheapskates like Ricardo were always trying to cut corners. Taking advice from political bullyboys, rag-tag bouncers and enforcers that were all over politicians like flies on dog shit.

The dirt road ended at a scattering of low buildings. He drove through the empty car park and continued along the unmarked road that began narrowing closer to the sewage pans. There was a whoosh of wings, birds flushing off the water at the sound of the engine. The dark-blue 4 by 4 Volvo (that the cops were looking for right now, according to Ricardo) was waiting where Fred and the tsotsi had arranged to meet, next to a half-derelict ablution block close to the pan.

Fred drove past, scanning the Volvo from behind his dark glasses, then pulled up just ahead of it and cut the engine, never taking his eyes off the rear-view and side mirrors as he unclipped his belt and popped the locks.
The youth climbed out of the Volvo. Fred could see he was as jumpy as a rabbit and sure as hell to have a weapon on him somewhere. These little street thugs always had knives, at the very least.

He waited for the boy to get closer. The clown was all flash and labels hanging off his stupid arse. Wearing his money before he’d earned it, living high on credit to look good. The Volvo looked unoccupied from this distance, but there could be someone hiding in the back, or even in the boot. Fred got out of the car and walked slowly towards the boy, who was checking him out in a way Fred didn’t like. Hard-eyed. Red-rimmed lids. Reeking of alcohol and sweat, and underneath a familiar acrid smell. This moron had messed up a simple intimidation job because he was tikking away his fucking stupid life.

‘You alone?’ The boy was craning his neck at the Camry.

‘Yes. And you?’ Fred worked at a non-threatening demeanour.

The boy gave a wary nod.

‘I believe you had a problem.’ Fred kept his tone pleasant; he had spotted the unmistakable outline of a gun in the pocket of the boy’s baggy, low-slung jeans.

‘No problems, my bra. The job is done.’

The boy was younger than Fred had first thought. ‘Where’s your partner?’ he asked.

‘No partners. I do the work myself.’

The boy’s black eyes flicked over Fred, taking in his Edgars’ chinos, Mr Price checked shirt and Chinese knock-off loafers. Thinking, what exactly? That Fred was a moegoe? A stooge, a messenger boy?

‘Well, then it’s only two and a half. We heard there were two of you.’ Ricardo’s contact at the cop shop said two were involved. Fred was worried about possible leakage, others involved in this dimwit’s fuck-up who could compromise Ricardo further down the line.

The boy’s eyes narrowed with suspicion. ‘Don’t be a clever with me, coolie, verstaan? It’s five thousand for the job. And I did it alone.’

‘I’m not a coolie.’

‘What are you? You not a coloured.’ The boy grinned inanely. ‘You a Chinese or what?’
The little fool thinks I’m scared of him. Fred thought that was funny.

‘Calm down. I’ll give you your money. But not here.’

The boy’s face darkened. ‘Don’t shit me, man.’

Fred made a nervous gesture towards the ablution block. ‘Not in the open. There are workers from the sewage plant all around here.’

‘Suka, don’t play games with me, Chinese.’ The boy hesitated. Fred headed around the back of the concrete building. He heard the youth’s footsteps behind him.

He pushed open the graffiti-defaced metal door leading into a lavatory. A black cloud of flies buzzed lazily around the lidless bowl, blocked to the rim by yellowing scrunched-up newspaper. The stench of piss and shit was overpowering.

The boy gave a cry of disgust: ‘Jee-sus, it stinks!’

That was rich coming from the boy who was as rank as rotten fish. He and Fred were wedged in the narrow concrete passage, half in, half out of the lavatory. The boy was muttering in Xhosa, getting edgy. Fred quickly drew the bulging envelope from his inside pocket. ‘This is a lot of cash for one man. You sure you did it alone?’

The boy’s eyes fixed on the envelope. ‘I don’t trust anyone else.’

Fred tossed him the packet. ‘Very wise.’

The greedy little punk caught the envelope and began tearing it open, his attention off Fred for those critical seconds. Fred slipped on his leather gloves and positioned himself behind the boy who, too late, spun around.
The garrotte was already around his neck.

His hands scrabbled for the gun, but Fred had lifted it from his pocket and drop-kicked it out of reach.
The boy fought like a huge fish, twisting and turning, trying to throw Fred off, flailing his arms, trying to get a grip on Fred’s wrists. Fred shuddered at the crudeness of it. He detested the contact, but garrotting was cleaner than a knife, left no mess and blood. Still, he hated the intimacy, the shaking and thrashing. He cursed Ricardo for getting him into this. Ricardo, who would walk away, hands clean. Free to be sanctimonious and self-righteous and holier than thou. Fred gave the nylon another whirl and twisted it tighter, watching it disappear into the flesh of the boy’s neck, the line slicing painfully into Fred’s thumb and forefinger.

The boy was making horrible rasping, gurgling noises. Fred switched his eye line to the flat expanse of water in the sewage works and thought about an article he’d read about a hippo that had gone missing around here. The sort of sentimental story Natasha loved. After what seemed a loathsome eternity, the boy sagged against him, lifeless
and heavy. Fred let go of the garrotte and the body slumped to the ground. He picked up the envelope of money and tucked it back into his top pocket, then went through the boy’s clothes and extracted a new Samsung phone, just over a thousand rand in notes and some loose coins. He wondered where the other stolen five thousand was that Ricardo had mentioned. A cheap cigarette lighter and a wallet containing an id that said the boy was Axolile Sama.

Fred put everything in his jacket pocket. He hooked the boy under the arms and dragged him out of the ablution block, trying to avoid the sight of the tongue that popped grotesquely from the open mouth, the staring eyes that were already clouding over. The sun was a white glare behind thin clouds. The boy felt heavier with every inch they covered, his trainers dragging, leaving a trail in the light sand. Fred manoeuvred the body to the edge of the pan. He was sweating from exertion and faintly nauseous. He needed to eat something; his sugar level was low. He looked around, and gathered some rocks and stones, which he stuffed into the pockets of the boy’s clothes until they could take no more. Slowly, he rolled the body over the pan. The water was covered in some thick algae, so that the body entered it with no more than a dull agitation of the surface. Then it slid slowly into the sludge and sank out of sight.

Fred walked back to his car, an unhurried easy pace, looking around to make sure there was no one about. He went over to the Volvo and tried the door. It was locked. Then he realised that he had not found the key on the boy’s body. He peered into the car: there was no sign of them on the seats, or in the ignition. He tried the boot. Locked. He would have to get someone to break into the car, strip it and dump it near Monwabisi. Another mess to clean up. Shit.

He drove away slowly in his Camry, occasionally checking his rear-view mirror. The car had just been valeted and it smelled of some kind of deodoriser, which had mixed with traces of the boy’s body odour into something sickening. Fred put on the aircon and opened the vents. Close to Sunset Beach, he stopped and stripped off the gloves and put one each into two black plastic bags. He paused for a minute, feeling the blood pounding in his head. He took a deep breath and gazed out at the sea rolling in, imperturbable and regular, each green wave flowing into another with a pleasurable and comforting regularity. He took the boy’s cellphone. His screen was a snapshot of a plump girl in a striped halter-neck top, her hair in elaborate braids, leaning against a car, hip jutting out, sulky face.Fred erased all the messages, including his call log and list of contacts, then
took out the sim card and buckled it until it broke in two. He placed the phone near the front right wheel of his car and drove over it and reversed back until he heard a crunch through his open window. He got out of the car, gathered all the phone’s fragments and divided them and the two pieces of sim card between the plastic bags that held the gloves.

He drove through Muizenberg to where it backed onto Marina da Gama until he found a municipal bin to dump one of the black bags. Then he made his way to St George’s Drive. He was thinking of the story he was going to tell Natasha when he got home – that the sea was not conducive to fishing after all. He would stop off and get some nice pastries, lose the other bag, then head back to Plumstead and Natasha, hopefully before the Monday-morning traffic got too heavy.

Check out Michele Rowe’s website here.

Buy Hour of Darkness here

What reviewers have had to say:
PHILLIP ALTBEKER, Times Live – ‘The latest writer to succeed in reflecting the specific problems besetting policing while also offering a compelling narrative is Michéle Rowe in What Hidden Lies.’

MERVYN SLOMAN, Owner of The Book Lounge – ‘It was a fantastic read, with a great plot, tremendous pace and stand-out characters. Percy Jonas is a wonderful creation. As soon as you put the book down, you want to pick up the next one and read more about this woman’.

LIEZEL FOURIE, – ‘Rowe keeps you captivated throughout, always twisting the plot so that you never know what really happened till the very end. Her characters each have their own past secrets, quirks and dark sides, which add interesting elements to the story.’

MARTI WILL, Vista News – ‘This book is brilliant. I am a Patricia Cornwell fan, but after this impressive South African read, I am converted. Michéle Rowe can stand up to the best crime writers in the world.’

TAME TIMES – ‘It is very well written. The relationships between the characters are fully explored and developed. By now I feel like Marge and Persy are old friends that I’ve come to know personally through the pages of the book.’

SHELAGH PARRY, – ‘The opening chapters of this debut novel won Michéle Rowe the 2011 CWA (Crime Writers’ Association) Debut Dagger Award and I can see why. This is crime writing just the way I like it – smart, pacy and character-driven.’

MIKE FITZJAMES, Fine Music Radio – ‘… all I will say is, that if you can put down this book for longer than it takes to pour a drink or make a cup of tea, you’re a mile in front of me. I read and read until my eyes were aching and eventually as I reached the conclusion I realized that I would really miss the various new characters that I had encountered. A tour de force indeed.’

Crime Beat: Extracts from this year’s krimis: (5) A Death in the Family by Michael Stanley.

michael stanleydeath in the familyA Death in the Family by Michael Stanley

Assistant Superintendent David ‘Kubu’ Bengu was enjoying his dream. He was at an all-you-can-eat buffet at The Palms hotel. His table was on the patio away from the noisy bar, and Joy, his wife, was visiting her sister, so she couldn’t limit how much he had to eat.

A smile flitted over his sleeping face as the bowl of shrimp on the buffet table slowly morphed into a platter of lobster in front of his eyes, and a man with a chef’s hat put two enormous tails onto his plate. Then his plate grew to the size of a tray, and there was room for cold, poached salmon and a delicious white sauce he didn’t recognize, as well as a large piece of smoked trout. That’s enough for a starter, he thought as he gazed at the lamb on the spit and the mountain of rare beef surrounded by crisp, roast potatoes and horseradish sauce. He picked his way back to his table past the other diners and their dainty helpings, where his half-empty glass of Sauvignon Blanc miraculously changed into a silver ice-bucket with a bottle of Moët champagne, already open. A white-gloved waiter with a red sash pulled back his chair then slid it forward as he sat down. Kubu nodded, and the waiter poured the bubbling nectar into a flute that stood twenty-five centimetres tall.

Even though he was fast asleep, Kubu let out a quiet sigh of pleasure.

Joy rolled onto her side, trying to move away from the twitches of Kubu’s arm as he drained the flute in a series of toasts to the other diners on the patio.

Now Kubu watched a man nearly as huge as himself trundle a large trolley of desserts towards him. Sherry trifle, apple pie, malva pudding, chocolate cake, carrot cake, jugs of custard and bowls of whipped cream delicately laced with cognac. Kubu groaned with pleasure as it approached. Thank God there was no fruit salad or fresh fruit.

He opened his mouth, and the man wheeled the trolley right into it. Why choose, Kubu thought, when you can have it all?

Just as he was about to wash it all down with a bottle of port that had appeared in his hand, an alarm went off, and a doctor ran onto the patio holding a clipboard. He pointed at Kubu, and the alarm rang again. Kubu looked around, and the piles of food shrank in front of his eyes, and the diners evaporated into thin air. Kubu became frantic. Where was the food going? What was he going to eat?

‘Wake up, Kubu!’ Joy shook him. ‘Wake up. It’s the phone. It’ll be for you.’

Kubu shook his head trying to orient himself back to reality.

‘Okay. Okay,’ he grumbled and stretched over to pick up the phone next to his bed.

‘Bengu.’ His voice came out like a hoarse whisper. He cleared his throat.

‘Bengu.’ This time he recognized his own voice.

‘Kubu, this is Jacob Mabaku. I have some bad news.’

Kubu sat up, trying to think which of his cases could have blown up so badly that the director of the Criminal Investigation Department had to phone in the middle of the night.

‘What’s going on, Director?’

‘There’s no easy way to say this, Kubu. Your father’s dead. I’m afraid he’s been murdered.’

For Detective Samantha Khama, it was only her second call-out to the scene of a murder. The first time had been dreadful, the still body proclaiming that a life was over, violently ended with no time to put affairs in order, no chance for goodbyes. But this time was much worse. The body lying in the alley under the police floodlights was a defenceless old man and, worse still, the father of a colleague.

Samantha wiped her eyes and tried to focus on the job at hand. She and Kubu had had their disagreements, but she counted him as a friend and looked up to him. Their work together on the witch-doctor case had been close and intense and, although she wouldn’t use that word, Kubu had become her mentor. She could imagine the turmoil he was going through now. She’d never met his father, but she’d heard Kubu talk of him and had deduced how close they were. And she could imagine how she would feel if something like this happened to her father.

Everyone at the scene was upset. There was little conversation except what was necessary to carry out the job efficiently. They were taking every care with the scene itself. Forensics had photographed the area around the body and checked for footprints. They had a couple of clear prints in the dusty section opposite the body, but they seemed to match those of Constable Tohe, who had discovered the body.

Ian MacGregor, the pathologist, was kneeling next to the body. He was usually unflappable, but she could see that he, too, was badly shaken.

Ian hauled himself to his feet, shaking his head. ‘Looks like three or four stab wounds to the chest and one to the neck. One probably went into the heart. Of course I won’t be able to tell until we do an autopsy. My guess is that the assailant was right-handed and struck downwards.’

Samantha nodded, but didn’t respond.

‘Well, you can search the body now.’

‘I think I should wait for the director. He said he would head over here as soon as Kubu was with his mother.’ She hesitated, then rushed on. ‘Dr. MacGregor, this is so awful! Who would attack an old man and knife him to death?

He was just a frail, old man and deserved respect.’

‘Well, that’s your job to find out. But in my experience, people who commit murders aren’t usually very concerned about age and frailty. The less likely the victim is to fight back, the better.’

They heard a car drive up and soon Mabaku joined them.

‘How is Kubu taking it, Director?’ Ian asked.

‘How do you think? He’s seems okay on the surface, but he’s in shock. And his mother’s distraught, of course. It’s a hell of a mess.’ He turned to Samantha. ‘Drop everything else. This is now top priority. I don’t care if he was mugged or if this is somehow connected to one of Kubu’s cases. Whoever did it is going to hang. We’re going to make it absolutely clear that we won’t tolerate anyone hurting one of us through our families.’

Samantha wondered how much that was going to help Kubu and his mother, but she just nodded.

‘So what have we got?’

Ian shrugged. ‘He’s been dead for around three hours, I’d say. Died somewhere between eight and ten o’clock. There are several stab wounds, one of which went into the heart as far as I can tell. I’ll do a preliminary autopsy first thing in the morning. Not much more I can do here.’ But he made no move to leave.


‘Zanele’s people haven’t come up with anything yet. No murder weapon, no clues. But they’re working on it.’
Mabaku could see that for himself. Zanele was talking to her fingerprint specialist and sounded frustrated.
Mabaku cursed. ‘We should have something by now!’ He took a deep breath. Then he said more quietly, as though to himself, ‘We have to be careful to keep perspective on this. Routine procedure and hard work. That’s what we need. That’s what solves cases.’ He didn’t add that they’d miss Kubu’s flashes of inspiration, but they were going to have to do without them. ‘Let’s take a look.’ He put on his overalls, booties, and gloves and went over to the body.

Kubu’s father was wearing a white shirt with long sleeves, and a grey jacket open in front, as if to frame the browning crimson of the wound. The pockets of his trousers were turned inside out. Mabaku bent over and started searching. He rolled the body on its side to see if there was a wallet in the back pocket. There wasn’t, but lying on the ground was a mobile phone.

‘That’s funny,’ Samantha said. The two men looked at her, surprised. ‘I mean it’s odd. Kubu told me that Wilmon never takes his mobile phone anywhere. He just uses it to get calls from the family. Kubu told me it once fell in the toilet, and his father pretended it was lost…’ Her voice trailed off, and she felt her throat close. She swallowed.
Mabaku thought for a moment. ‘We must check that with Kubu and Amantle. Maybe he was expecting a call. He doesn’t seem to have anything else with him.’ He turned to Samantha. ‘Please check the phone for calls made and received for the past month and check with the phone company as well, in case any of the records on the phone have been deleted.’

Samantha nodded, then asked, ‘No wallet?’

Mabaku shook his head. ‘Hardly surprising. If he was mugged, the wallet would be gone. Or the assailant could have taken it to make it look like a mugging. Wilmon must have dropped the mobile phone when he was stabbed and fallen on top of it.’

Zanele joined them, looking tired and depressed.

‘Nothing yet. A dirt street is about the worst murder scene you can imagine. It’s been windy so stuff blows away. People walk through here all the time, so anything we find might have nothing to do with the murder at all. I’ve already got a whole bag of junk. And I don’t think we’ll get any fingerprints.’ She glanced at the rough brick walls.

‘Keep at it, Zanele,’ Mabaku said. ‘Collect everything. Some of your junk could turn out to be important later on. In the morning we’ll search the whole area. Maybe the killer threw the knife away. And we’ll start checking right away if anyone in the area saw or heard anything.’

Suddenly Samantha had an awful thought. Suppose they never got to the bottom of this? Suppose Kubu had to live without knowing what had happened here and why? But then she pulled herself together. That wasn’t going to happen. Mabaku wasn’t going to let it happen and neither was she.

The director turned back to her. ‘If this is just an opportunistic mugging, we’ll get him through the local police. Check with them in the morning and get them to see if their contacts have any information that could be useful. But if this is something to do with Kubu, then we’re going to have to get at the motive through him. That’s going to be painful for him because he’ll blame himself for his father’s death.’

Samantha thought about it. ‘What if it’s neither?’ she asked tentatively.

Mabaku shook his head. ‘Wilmon was as straight as an arrow. He would never have been involved in anything that would get him killed.’

Samantha said nothing, but she wondered about that mobile phone.

Visit the website of Michael Stanley (Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip) here.

Buy A Death in the Family here.

What reviewers say about Michael Stanley novels:

‘A wonderful, original voice – McCall Smith with a dark edge and even darker underbelly’ – Peter James

‘Under the African sun, Michael Stanley’s Detective Kubu investigates crimes as dark as the darkest of Nordic Noir. Call it Sunshine Noir, if you will – a must read’ – Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Crime Beat: Extracts from this year’s krimis: (4) Sibanda and the Deaths Head Moth by C M Elliott

deathheadmothScottyelliottSibanda and the Deaths Head Moth by CM Elliott

He grasped the wooden stiletto and wrenched it from his thigh with one great heave, collapsing in a groaning heap. He cursed every bad word he knew in every language and dialect he could remember. When he had recovered enough to move again, he bound the wound as best he could with strips of his running shirt. It was several minutes before he levered himself up with the aid of a branch, intact despite the explosion. Using this makeshift crutch he limped along the path with some urgency until he came level with the site of the strike.

Around the stricken mopani, the grass for a wide radius was flattened and burnt, and several small fires were smouldering at the periphery. The wind that had earlier blown up was gusting and encouraging the flames to grow. Sibanda groaned. He had no option but to try and extinguish them before they flared up and became a bush fire. The tall grass was tinder dry and leaf litter lay in small hillocks, gathered by the wind. There was plenty of fuel lingering from winter to start a fire big enough to threaten Gubu village.

He hobbled around the circumference of the burn, hopping and stamping out the licking flames with his good foot until he was satisfied the site was safe. And then Sibanda’s internal radar was suddenly beeping with the frequency of a scud missile honed onto a target. He leaned heavily on his branch. The breeze that chased away the bubbling, magenta clouds had stirred up ashes and unearthed a distinctive smell hiding behind the sulphurous vapours – burning flesh, and if Sibanda wasn’t mistaken, burning human flesh. He had only smelled it once before, but it assaulted his nostrils now as it did that day in Nottingham, where he was on secondment. A little terrace had gone up aided by an accelerant, incinerating a young mother and her toddler triplets. He had been sent along with others on the first response team. The fire fighters in attendance took one look at his youth and wished him a strong stomach.

‘You’ll not see worse than this,’ one of them said, as they left the burnt-out building, rolling up hoses, tipping back visors and checking equipment in a sort of mechanical routine designed to minimise the impact of viewing burnt babies.

Sibanda had no routine or distracting behaviour to fall back on. The horror and suffering of the scene seeped into his psyche, raw and not yet numbed by experience. He hoped he would never see the like again. He returned to the station white faced.

‘If you can tolerate that, lad, then we’ll make a copper of you yet. We might even make an Englishman of you if you continue to turn pale,’ commented the grizzled duty sergeant with a chuckle.

Sibanda did not take offence. He knew none was meant. ‘I’m not sure I want to be a policeman if I’m going to be dealing with people who can do this.’ He kept his thoughts on becoming an Englishman to himself.

‘You’ll get over it. Those black, contorted crisps huddled together in a corner will fade from your memory and you’ll be the better cop for it. We see sights every day in this job, sights the general public can only guess at, depravity not yet invented, even by the tabloids. Put your disgust to good use. Get the bastard that did this.

It’s a rum old world, son, full of more deadly sins than you can shake a biblical fist at, welcome to it.’

He had taken the advice to heart, although he didn’t sleep that night for the visions that came when he closed his eyes. He had several tormented nights over the next couple of weeks, but they did catch the arsonist, the mother’s boyfriend; he had wanted the children gone. They cried and complained and kept their mother occupied when her attention should have been focused solely on him. Sibanda remembered thinking how close to animals the human species was. Lions did that, killed and ate cubs so that the mother would come into season again – lust, the deadliest of the sins in any species.

The old sergeant had been right. The tableau of twisted, charred corpses had faded, but the memory of the stench had remained. It had clung to his clothes and crawled up his nostrils with long claws like a bat finding its roost. It was unfurling its wings again now.

Sibanda hopped across the burnt ground, stirring up the black snow of carbonised grass with his makeshift crutch. He used it, balancing on one leg like a marabou stalk, to dig around in the smouldering branches and fragmented wreckage of the tree. The mopani had been in full leaf and the fallen canopy made a good fist of concealing anything beneath it. It took a while to push aside the debris, but Sibanda rummaged harder as the stink of the sizzled flesh became overpowering. It brought back long-buried images.

He unearthed an arm first. The fingers were clawed. The heat had shrivelled and contracted the tendons. A few fingers were missing and some flesh torn from the bones. Squatting on his one good leg, he gently lowered himself into a sitting position. The pulse was gone. He hadn’t expected one. No one could have survived lightning at the heart of the strike.

Find out more about C M Elliott here
Buy Sibanda and the Deaths Head Moth here

What reviewers have had to say:
CM Elliott has created a lively cast of characters and an intricate, clever plot that is kicked off when a party of tourists on a game drive stumble across a kill with a difference: a human corpse being pecked about by vultures.” – Margaret von Klemperer, The Witness

“The murder mystery is well plotted, but it is the rich imagery and metaphor that make this first novel remarkable… Indefatigable, Sibanda straddles the divide, with perspiring Ncube stumbling in his wake. I sincerely hope we will meet them both again.” – Jenny de Klerk, Saturday Star