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Crime Beat

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Krimi reads for the summer hols

the october killingsmy brother's keeperthe twelvelush lifeloser's townFrom the get-go, Crime Beat has had an association with the krimi review on Fine Music Radio. That review goes out this afternoon on the wireless but for those not on the Cape Town wavelength here’s the written round-up of the books that have been keeping me up late at night over the last little while. In fact, it’s the best of the best after two months of reading – the slush pile is three times this size, believe me. If you’re stocking up page-turners for the summer holidays, here are some suggestions.

Right up the top – because they’re South African writers – are Wessel Ebersohn with his first novel for some 19 years, The October Killings, and Jassy Mackenzie with My Brother’s Keeper which follows hot on the heels of her debut novel, last year’s Random Violence.

the october killingsEbersohn hit the scene way back in the late 1970s with A Lonely Place to Die which featured an eccentric and dogmatic prison psychologist, Yudel Gordon, as its unlikely protagonist. It was an imaginative way to come at the genre in the time of apartheid and Ebersohn soon gathered a staunch local readership and an international following. Another three Yudel Gordon books followed until the publication of Closed Circle in 1990. Then 19 years of silence, but now I am pleased to say, Yudel Gordon is back and teamed up with a black no-nonsense lawyer called Abigail Bukula. As always in Ebersohn’s novels the crime at the heart of The October Killings has political ramifications – which to me is a plus – as it makes the book so much more than just another crime novel.

my brother's keeperThen, when you’ve finished the Ebersohn, go straight into Mackenzie’s fast and evocative My Brother’s Keeper. At its centre is ex-mercenary and current paramedic Nick Kenyon who soon finds himself sucked into not only a familial duel but an audacious heist that is going to blow open more than a safe. From the get-go, Mackenzie keeps the tension at full revs with as many twists and turns and cliff-hangers as you’ll find on Chapman’s Peak. The ending is a triumph of thriller writing and wonderfully poignant.

Two books that show the crime genre at its best – not only for fine writing, but also for suspense and ideas – are Stuart Neville’s The Twelve and Richard Price’s Lush Life. The books couldn’t be further apart in subject matter and style but it is going to be a long time I suspect before novels this good land on my desk again.

the twelveStuart Neville’s The Twelve is set in his native Ireland and focuses on a hitman with some serious demons, demons from his past. These manifestations of the people he’s killed, haunt him in the way Lady Macbeth was haunted. The result is an unexpected tour-de-force of crime writing that – like the Ebersohn – has a social relevancy that cracks open the current duplicities, greed, corruption that lie at the heart of Irish politics. While I read it I kept thinking, this could be describing South Africa. Please read this book. A better – and better written – thriller will be hard to find.

lush lifeAfter The Twelve read Price’s Lush Life. Price was a writer on the successful TV series The Wire and has a long list of good books to his name, among them, Clockers and Freedomland. He is the Dostoyevsky of crime writing. His books are huge and the plots unravel in their own good time but as with the others, Lush Life is packed with characters, situations, descriptions which you’ll stop to read again and again. At the centre of this novel is a murder that happens when a mugging goes wrong. The world this cracks open, reveals contemporary life in all its rawness. But once you enter that world you won’t want to leave.

guttedYou will want to leave Tony Blacks portrait of Edinburgh in his second PI, Gutted, but you won’t dare do so until the final page. Black’s strong man is Gus Dury – a former journalist, now a drunk with what is as close to a death wish as I’ve ever encountered. In true PI fashion Dury tells his own story and it is one that involves him in considerable mayhem and pain. Murders, illegal dog fights, police corruption, a bitter love affair gone bad – welcome to Gus Dury’s world. This is for crusty fans of the hard-boiled.

loser's townAnd lastly there’s Daniel Depp’s Loser’s Town. Set in Hollywood it has all the glitz you’d expect, a fair amount of white powder and B-list gangsters trying to make a dishonest buck at the expense of the A-list gangsters. It doesn’t pack the punch of the other books reviewed but it has great dialogue and some very funny scenes.*

The October Killings by Wessel Ebersohn (Umuzi)
My Brother’s Keeper by Jassy Mackenzie (Umuzi)
The Twelve by Stuart Neville (HarvillSecker)
Lush Life by Richard Price (Bloomsbury)
Gutted by Tony Black (Preface)
Loser’s Town by Daniel Depp (Simon & Schuster)


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    November 7th, 2009 @22:35 #

    Thanks, Mike. I will be giving Gutted a miss, but (deep breath) am going to ask Colleen to loan me My Brother's Keeper. Plus (now this you won't believe), Sarah L got me to read Child 44 (Tom Rob Smith). It nearly killed me (so so so not H-rated), but I couldn't put the bloody thing down. You krimi perps owe me a bottle of whiskey with a side order of Valium.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Mike Nicol</a>
    Mike Nicol
    November 8th, 2009 @11:45 #

    Glad to hear you're making the crossing, Helen. A whole new world of blood and spillage awaits you.


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