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Crime Beat

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Crime Beat: A suitable job for Jade de Jong

Jassy Mackenzie’s private eye, Jade de Jong, has featured in three novels so far. The latest, Worst Case was recently released in August. Today, I’m going to have a look at this young, strong and complex investigator and how both Mackenzie and de Jong navigate the traditionally masculine wilderness of the crime genre.
Jassy Mackenzie
When we first meet Jade in Random Violence, we are thrown into a fresh start in her home city of Joburg with her. She has returned from a ten-year odyssey overseas after the untimely and suspicious death of her father. Jade must start again in a city she hardly recognizes. She is isolated with no family or friends apart from her father’s protégé, Superintendent David Patel. The married detective quickly becomes de Jong’s burgeoning love interest and the situation is only made more difficult by his indecision and sense of loyalty to his wife and young son, Kevin.

JadeFor me, it’s all in the name with Mackenzie’s protagonist. ‘Jade’, the name of an opaque precious stone, can perhaps be seen as a metaphor for her beauty a well as her hardness. The fact that the stone is opaque and other-worldly points to de Jong’s impenetrable and enigmatic personality. Her surname, ‘de Jong’ evokes Jade’s youth which, I would suggest is most clearly seen in her emotional immaturity. There is a clear sense throughout the series of de Jong growing out of a state of confusion and loss. Her lack of self-awareness is clear in Stolen Lives:

Then David had stared directly at Jade. ‘You have it,’ he said.
‘What?’ she’d asked, rattled.
‘That look. Killer’s eyes.’ He’d smiled, but without mirth. ‘You have it in spades. I can see it whenever I look at you.’
He’s left soon after that, and Jade had walked straight to the bathroom and spent a few minutes staring, concerned, into the mirror. Killer’s eyes? What was David going on about? Try as she might, all she had seen was that her own eyes were wide, green, and worried-looking. (210)

A thread of the Gothic origins of the genre runs through the Jade de Jong series with revelations from the past such as her father’s murder and information about the mother she never knew returning to haunt Jade. Her instincts are honed by the voice of her beloved detective father whose image she tries and fails to live up to. She is foiled from the start by her decision to kill her father’s murderer. This thread of a lost parent’s impact on a detective is also evident in Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski series where V.I.’s dead mother is the voice of her instincts.

De Jong is certainly depicted as a strong, capable woman by the feminist terms outlined a couple of weeks ago. She is something of a rogue investigator, having been trained in personal security (being a body guard) overseas and brought up by her detective father. Superintendent David Patel is her access point to the law enforcement establishment. It’s clear that Jade is acutely aware that she is powerless to affect any change without the police. In Stolen Lives her frustration is clear:

Jade had wanted to storm straight back into the building, to question the receptionist and demand access to the office records and look up the man’s details.
Impossible, of course. She didn’t have any authority to act at all. It was Moloi’s case, and all she could do was pass the phone number on to him and let him take it further. (145)

The reader gains insight into the law enforcement establishment through Patel’s focalisation where he is represented as an almost solitary incorruptible figure in a police force of woefully inadequate infrastructure. Their relationship is complicated through Jade’s bid for vigilante justice by shooting her father’s killer and David’s infallible reputation as an upstanding cop. Their choices along the line of right and wrong prove to drive a wedge between the pair and we see both sides of the story through their eyes.

While the major crimes of the Jade de Jong series ostensibly involve the middle class and the wealthy, the novels are firmly in a disappointed Rainbow nation with gaping economic divide. Jade’s awareness of this status quo is clear in the way she sees the world. This is from Random Violence :

She felt sorry for Joburg’s poor, who had to walk vast distances to reach crammed and dangerous taxis. Nameless, faceless, they were ignored by the rich people speeding past in their air-conditioned cocoons of their fast and expensive cars.

If her sympathy seems condescending, Jade’s action firmly shows her sense of justice. Jade has let some passengers from a taxi cross the road and the car behind her has harassed her with blasts of his hooter. Jade approaches his window and the end of the conversation ends like this:

‘For God’s sake, bitch,’the man shouted. His mouth was open so wide she could see the gold fillings in his molars. ‘Get back in your car and drive. Because if you don’t, I’m going to get out myself and land you such a punch you’ll be flat on your back. Woman or not, I don’t give a shit.’
‘All right, then.’ Jade walked back and climbed into her car. Behind her, she heard the man revving his engine in triumph. She pushed in the clutch. Then she popped the car into reverse and hit the accelerator. (66)

So Jade becomes something of a fearless, rogue vigilante. While what she chooses to is not always legal, she always has the victim at heart.

My favourite part of the Jade de Jong series is the humour. Even after just killing a man in self-defence in Random Violence after he ripped her clothes off and tried to rape Jade, we are treated to a laugh-out-loud moment located firmly in Jade’s feminine focalization:

Jade crept back toward the clearing, trying to stay in the shadows on the other side of the path, because her legs were so damn pale they would show up like flares if there was any light around. (233)

Jade is tough and physically skilled, an investigator cultivated by her father’s moral compass and detecting experience. She is young in many ways but always puts the victim first. While she is firmly located in the tough world of the private eye, she embraces her femininity. I would suggest that what stands in the way of Jade being a fulfilled investigator is not being a woman, as Kathleen Klein would assert, but rather her alienation, lack of self-awareness and immaturity. Jade’s growth and her coming to terms with her past, her choices and her love life is one of the most interesting aspects of the series.

Random Violence

Stolen Lives

Book details

Worst Case


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Mack</a>
    October 3rd, 2011 @17:46 #

    I liked the character of Jade de Jong as soon as I met her in Random Violence. She is her own character but her approach to justice and use of violence puts her in the hardboiled tradition. I knew she wasn't going to be a typical PI when, early in the book, she agreed to help an old acquaintance do something that totally surprised me. If you have read Random Violence you know what I mean. If you haven't, I won't spoil the surprise. It gave me an insight into her character and approach to life. Likewise, the final resolution to her father's murder really pleased me and added another level to her character. I like the way Jassy is revealing bits about her past, letting it unfold in the context of the story.

    Stolen Lives is a strong second novel in the series that tackles an important topic, human trafficking.

    I just got a copy of the Gil Plain book, Twentieth-Century Crime Fiction: Gender, Sexuality and the Body, you mentioned a couple of posts ago and am looking forward to looking deeper into the subject.


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