Fiction imitates life

Stolen Lives by Jassy Mackenzie (Umuzi)
Those Who Love Night by Wessel Ebersohn (Umuzi)
Tooth And Nailed by Sarah Lotz (Penguin)

A man called Bees is arrested for allegedly beating a police officer to death with his bare hands.

A notorious racist known as ET is murdered in his house, allegedly by black workers on his farm.

Lolly, the larger-than-life boss of a chain of lap-dancing clubs, is shot 15 times.

Members of South Africa’s growing gang of crime writers don’t have to look far for inspiration.

Newspapers are so packed with gruesome tales and grisly details that it must be hard for them to match the lurid headlines. Often the truth is almost as strange as the fiction.

This is certainly the case in Jassy Mackenzie’s new book, Stolen Lives, a sequel to Random Violence, the first of her books to feature the private detective, Jade de Jongh.

This time the plot features Terence Jordaan, the wealthy owner of a chain of strip clubs who has a large collection of expensive sports cars.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? And, yes, Mackenzie did visit Lolly Jackson’s Teazers clubs when she was doing research, but it was only when the book was in its final editing stages that Jackson was brutally murdered by a “business associate”.

In the book Terence has disappeared and his frightened wife, Pamela, hires Jade as a bodyguard. This is the start of a wild ride as the action moves along as fast as the Corvette convertible that the volatile Pamela drives so recklessly.

From Stratford in the United Kingdom to Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina and back to Sandton in South Africa, the plot whizzes along taking in trafficked women, corrupt home affairs officials, sinister bad guys and hard-working cops.

One of these is Superintendent David Patel, Jade’s on-again off-again lover who happens to be married, but separated from his wife.

The kidnapping of Patel’s son and the blackmailing of his wife join the strands of a story that comes to a bloody climax in Dullstroom, of all places.

The feisty Jade is more than a match for the vicious bad guys and there is enough nail-biting action to satisfy even those whose senses have been dulled by the barrage of crime stories in the newspapers.

Those Who Love Night by Wessel Ebersohn is another book that mirrors the news headlines.

This time it is the demise of a crime-fighting unit called the Scorpions that will be familiar to readers.

“Their cars were black and each bore a large white scorpion on either side. And their success rate had been almost as good as their sense of drama.

“They had loved to make arrests in major cases in the bright light of television cameras. Not all heroes of the liberation struggle admired that characteristic, but they seemed to have decided to live with it.

It turned out to be an unforgivable sin only when some of those arrested came from their own ranks.”

So the Scorpions are being replaced by the Hawks who are expected to be less troublesome, and this has raised the ire of the ambitious and, of course, beautiful Justice Department lawyer Abigail Bukula.

Sent on a six-month sabbatical to cool off, the angry Abigail finds distraction in a phone call from a lawyer in Zimbabwe asking her to help in the case of seven missing activists, one of whom is believed to be her cousin.

So the action shifts to the less familiar territory of Zimbabwe. But here, too, the story has its roots in some well-known stories, especially the bloody Gukurahundi massacres of the 1980s.

This tragic event is central to the story but Abigail has to pick her way through angry activists, murdered lawyers and vicious security police officers before the truth can be revealed.

She is helped in her quest by Yudel Gordon, an eccentric psychologist who works for the South African department of correctional services.

His knowledge of prisons comes in handy when they have to search the notorious Chikurubi prison in Harare.

Having left South Africa with the suspicion that her husband is having an affair with “the pretty blonde temp with milky-white breasts”, Abigail is strangely tempted by the overtures of the smooth but sinister Director Jonas Chungu of the Central Intelligence Organisation.

But the description of this “affair” is less convincing than the portrayal of the brutalities of life in Chikurubi.

The trail leads the reader into some confusing dead ends, with the emphasis on dead, and a tense ride through the dark Zimbabwean countryside ends with a satisfying twist to the tale.

It’s not often that there are news stories about a child being mauled by a hyena—although there was the case of the Chinese tourist who got out of his car to take pictures and was mauled to death by a resident of the Lion Park near Lanseria airport.

But in Sarah Lotz’s Tooth and Nailed, the list of baddies includes a hungry hyena and several “habituated” lions. That these wild animals have become used to humans and started seeing us as prey is one of the mysteries that Cape Town lawyer Georgie Allen has to deal with.

Georgie has a smoking habit that he is fighting a losing battle to quit, his closest companion is a dog called Exhibit A, he drives a beat-up Golf and his sidekick is a Scottish lawyer—with a complaining wife and several unruly “bairns”—who is prone to saying “shite” and “laddie”.

So Georgie has all the (sometimes too familiar) idiosyncrasies required of a quirky hero who has aspirations of featuring in many more instalments of his adventures to come.

In this case it is the blackmailing of university professor Benjamin Nyathi, the author of some raunchy poetry who has in the past had some trouble involving young women.

As he trawls through the professor’s sometimes unsavoury past, Georgie also has to help his brother, a tour operator in the Botswana bush.

He is in legal trouble after the son of one his clients was mauled by the aforementioned hyena.

That is more than enough unusual characters and interesting locations to make for an engaging story and the climax for a change involves legal tactics and verbal barbs instead of criminal activities and gunshots.

So, a trio of interesting local novels with enough substance to satisfy fans of the crime genre, but they may be left dreaming of something with a bit more depth of character, intricacy of plot and dialogue that has more grit and polish.

Just as those with a sweet tooth are happy with a slab of chocolate, there is always that craving for some really rich chocolate—perhaps wrapped around a hard but tasty nut or even something that has a soft centre but with a sweet bite provided by an exotic liqueur.

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