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Crime Beat

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Crime Beat: Some new thrillers

By special arrangement with FMR here are the books noted in my latest review for that radio station.

Thriller writer Michael Robotham was in the country in July for the release of his latest, The Wreckage and what a thriller it is. It’s a bit of a departure for Robotham, who made his name and reputation on some tight dark claustrophobic psychological thrillers (remember Shatter and The Suspect), to write a conspiracy story but he’s produced a page-turner.

The plot comprises two seemingly unrelated stories: the one set in contemporary Baghdad, the other in London. The Baghdad story concerns an American journalist Luca Terracini investigating a number of bank robberies involving millions of dollars, let alone multimillion development projects that were never started let alone completed. In London, a character from previous books, ex-cop Vincent Ruiz, is done-over by two con-tricksters (a nineteen year old streetwise Holly Knight and her boyfriend) who steal his widow’s jewellery. This gets up Ruiz’s nose and he tracks down the wayward pair only to discover the boyfriend brutally murdered. From there it’s a plunge into a world where nothing is what it seems and the bad guys, well, it’s not giving too much away to say that the bad guys are the people we once thought were the good guys. Amazing how often that theme is beginning to crop up in crime thrillers these days. At one point Ruiz says he’d never given much thought to whether bankers were the architects of global prosperity or the sackers of civilisation.

And while on the subject of thrillers with links to the current turmoil in the Arab world, get hold of David Ignatius’s latest, Blood Money. It’s a fast cat and mouse story that plays out all over the world, and doesn’t let up for a moment. Nor does Jeff Abbott’s The Last Minute, although it is of a completely different order. A suspense thriller that Harlan Coben calls the ‘most heart-stopping thriller of the year’, it is set in the US. Sam Capra’s had his baby son abducted and the only way he can get him back is by committing a murder. To ratchet up the tension, there’s a ticking clock: unless they make the deadline all hell will break loose.

Then a couple of new South African titles. First a debut from H J Golakai with The Lazarus Effect which is subtitled a Vee Johnson Mystery – so presumably more are in the pipeline. The Vee Johnson in question is an investigative journalist with a somewhat chaotic personal life and the subject under discussion is a missing child. What is it about missing children that has grabbed the imaginations of local crime writers? Her search takes Vee Johnson into the entangled lives of two families, and reveals a particularly Cape Town story. The cover shout from Deon Meyer says the book is ‘brimming with intelligence, wit and real heart. Enormously entertaining.’

Earlier this year Diale Tlholwe delivered his second private eye novel featuring his pulp fiction hero, Thabang Maje. In 2009, Tlholwe hit the scene with Ancient Rites – a look into the mysterious and traditional world of village life where ancestors, spirits, and reality collide. For that he won the 2010 South African Literary Award for Debut Writing. His new novel, Counting the Coffins, confronts a more urban scene and deals with a shopping mall development that is under-engineered and collapses. The style is laid back and wry and of course there are all the seductions along the way that lead PIs astray.

And lastly, if you were a fan of Peter Church’s first novel, Dark Video, you’ll be glad to hear he’s returned with another, this one is called Bitter Pill. One of the characters that made Dark Video so, well, dark, is back performing all kinds of nastiness in the new book. The terrain is Cape Town’s nightclub scene, the young, especially young women, are the hunted. Welcome to the world of sleazy men with salacious habits.


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