Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Crime Beat

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Crime Beat: A suitable job for Vee Johnson

It’s not often that you’re introduced to a female detective with a child on her hip. But Vee Johnson is not your average woman detective. Emerging from a childhood in war-torn Liberia, we meet V.J. experiencing mysterious blackouts and hallucinations. Not only is this detective navigating the traditionally masculine codes of the crime genre, she is also navigating the South African setting as an outsider.

H.J. Golakia is a fresh new voice on the South African crime fiction scene. She brings a rounded African perspective, having been brought up in Liberia but moving through Togo, Ghana and Zimbabwe with her family becuase of political and economic unrest before settling in South Africa. The Lazarus Effect is her first novel and she is described as writing from her experiences as a “refugee, foreigner, scientist and contemporary African nomad”.

For me, it’s the insight as well as the outsider’s perspective that Golakia’s investigative journalist cum inadvertent detctive brings to the world around her that makes the novel so rich. The world taken for granted by most readers is made strange by Vee’s narration:

After three years in Cape Town, the policy of lines was still beyond Vee. Queues, as they were otherwise affectionateky known. Everyone always stood patiently awaiting their turn, smiling completely inane and unnecessary smiles at each other in agreement at absurdly long waits, admired the ceiling, took obedient half- steps forward when someone was served and left. With the exception of a passport office, this would cause a bust-up in West Africa. the hustle and flow of her people was as rushed and organised as a bloodstream; everyone got what they were after, with no mental gymnastics. She juggled Jeremy from one hip to the other and sighed.

As it turns out, Jeremy is Vee’s godson, the son of her best friend, Connie. These women, together with Vee’s two old flames and several other friends make up something of a West African community in Cape Town. The lilt of Vee’s vernacular and the descriptions of fragrant, spicy and fruity dishes infuse the novel with a distinctly Liberian flavour. The sense of their straddling two worlds, the traditional world of their West African upbringin and the Western influence of Cape Town is apparent and treated with humour and affection in a conversation in Connie’s Claremont home:

Vee stuck her tongue out at her. “Ikenna, you see that your mother? She can never mind her own business,” she wispered to her sleeping godson. “Likes to pretend she’s a white woman, calling you ‘Jeremy’ instead of your real name. Sellout. Please ask her if she got permission from your Igbo father who named you himself before she started calling you fwehn-fwehn. Let her answer that one first.”
Connie laughed once more. “Leave my house, oh, rubbish girl!”

As a detective, Vee is smart and tenacious and her approach is wrapped up in warmth and humour. That’s not to say she isn’t tough. V.J takes an inordinate amount of physical poundings through the novel, she’s attacked at her office, hit by a car and kidnapped. Through all of it, Vee is described with a facinating mixture of physical toughness and emotional vulnerability. One minute, she’s being dragged around by her hair, surprised by her attacked while picking up a pizza for lunch, the next, the reader is following Vee down a lonely, dark road of the memories of losing a child and her experiences of being a refugee. V.J is strong and undoutably sexy. With two men after her, the reader’s desire for romance is fuelled through the novel and, let me say, gratified with one helluvan intimate encounter.

We see a new Cape Town through Vee’s eyes and it is gently refelcted to us with a perspective of warmth and humour. Golakai’s novel is most definitely first and foremost a human story, packed with action, sex and mystery.


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    October 11th, 2011 @23:20 #

    This looks GREAT. I think I'd really like to read it, but Mike, is it H-rated? (Remember, I managed to read The Mall, and only had to skip two pages...)

  • Elizabeth Fletcher
    Elizabeth Fletcher
    October 12th, 2011 @22:15 #

    Give it a bash, Helen! It's a really refreshing and hearty novel. I'm sure you can handle the steamy stuff!

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Mack</a>
    October 13th, 2011 @01:27 #

    It looks to be a good read. I have an email in to Kalahari to see if they will allow a Yank to download the ePub version.

    Helen, I don't suppose you'll tell me which two pages of The Mall you skipped? There are many candidates.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    October 13th, 2011 @14:45 #

    Hi Mack: I can't handle bad stuff happening to animals, so once we got the the True Version of Bambi: The Movie, I skipped. And then again at that Rat Woman scene. Saw where it was going and turned the page. The rest was a doddle (couldn't eat anything while I was reading it, but doddle none the less).

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Mike Nicol</a>
    Mike Nicol
    October 14th, 2011 @11:38 #

    Got to this late, Helen, but Liz has already indicated that the H-factor is low. I read the book some time ago in manuscript but from what I can remember you should be fine. Interesting range of krimis that have been published this year. Must have a look at this as a post.


Please register or log in to comment

» View comments as a forum thread and add tags in BOOK Chat