What is it about Cape Town, that beautiful laid-back city, that inspires tough, gritty crime novels featuring drugs, gangs, struggle backstories, bombs, sleaze incorporated?
Deon Meyer has made a speciality of that kind of crime novel. Novelist Mike Nicol is going in the same direction.
In Payback, Nicol’s second Cape Town thriller, all the elements are there. Mace Bishop and Pylon Buso, gunrunners during the struggle, now make a lucrative living bodyguarding rich foreign ladies on surgeon and safari tours.
Their idyllic lifestyle is interrupted by a gangster called Ducky Donald Hartnell, who bailed them out half a lifetime ago when a gun consignment went astray, and now calls in his marker. Bishop isn’t interested, but when Hartnell mentions the Cayman Islands, where Bishop and Buso have salted away much of their loot, he reluctantly agrees to represent Hartnell’s son in negotiations with some very nasty people.
It seems Hartnell’s idiotic son runs a nightclub where a large proportion of the drugs floating around Cape Town are sold to young ravers. A mysterious woman called Sheemina February makes an offer on behalf of Pagad (remember them? People Against Gangsterism and Drugs?): either get rid of the ecstasy and crack cocaine and hire Pagad heavies as security, or close down. When young Hartnell refuses, the club, packed to the rafters, is bombed.
The resulting carnage does not deter the Hartnells, who rebuild and reopen. This enrages Pagad — or somebody — whose killers go after Bishop and his family: the beautiful potter Oumou and small daughter Christa, probably the only actually decent people in the book. For while the villains are villainous indeed, the good guys aren’t so clean either.
There is somewhat more gore than one needs: on a scale of one to 10, it would score an eight. But the dialogue is brilliant, the writing too, and Payback has perhaps the coolest ending one is likely to find anywhere.
Melbourne, that beautiful Victorian city, also seems to have its share of gangsters, grit, psychotic killers and sleaze. Dead Point, by Peter Temple, is the latest in the series featuring former alcoholic lawyer Jack Irish, an amateur cabinetmaker when he’s not tracking down missing persons or helping his main patron and associate, one Harry Strang, choose racehorses to buy. In Dead Point he’s doing all of the above.
Strang spreads his bets among a number of trusted punters, presumably because the odds would shorten if it became public where his money was going. The head of the syndicate is robbed and badly beaten in the racecourse car park, and Irish is supposed to find out who’s behind it. At the same time, a bartender has disappeared and quite a lot of people are looking for him, including Irish, who’s hired to track him down.
Part of the charm of Temple’s books is the banter that livens up the dialogue and his love of bars — not just for the booze — and Australian Rules football. The books just keep getting better and better.