THE latest World Crime Atlas read exposes the ugly truth behind the Rainbow Nation facade.
Country: South Africa.
Book: Nowhere, by Roger Smith.
Plot: An ‘incorruptible’ retired Afrikaaner police officer is blackmailed into helping cover-up the fact that the President of the Republic of South Africa has murdered his wife. In a separate case, a sidelined black detective is sent to arrest an old white supremacist for the murder of a young black farmworker. As the two cases unfold, they are drawn ever closer together as dreadful events from the country’s tortured past are uncovered.
Where and when: Current South Africa. The story ranges from Cape Town to the Kalahari desert.
The detectives: Joe Louw – widowed and living in reclusive retirement after the accidental but fatal shooting of a woman in the aftermath of a robbery; and Disaster Zondi – moved to the police backwater of a department investigating old Afrikaaners for their Apartheid crimes.
Sense of Place: Peopled by extraordinarily vivid (if horrible) characters, this book exposes the ugly truth behind the Rainbow Nation facade. We are shown a country where the inhumanity of the old white regime has been replaced by the venal corruption of the new black government. Everybody is tainted; the wounds – inflicted and received – of the past bleed into the present. The story is as brutal as the setting, whether that is the eponymous Nowhere, an “ugly little town that sat upon the sand and scrub like an afterthought,” the heat-blasted desert, the empty road “liquid with heatshimmer as it parsed the endless expanse of sand and thorn trees,” or the squalid ghettoes on the edge of the cities, where “the sky over the shacks was red with boiling flame, the wind twisting and scattering the sparks of a million embers.” We are left with a sense of the moral ugliness and ethical emptiness of a land where corruption and tribal prejudices exist alongside the racism that never went away: racism “which wasn’t – contrary to the belief of outsiders – a black and white affair. All colours, and all shades of skin, seemed to be caught up in a complex and never ending dance of mutual dislike and suspicion.”
Where Next? No easy task to follow such outstandingly good storytelling. Perhaps it’s time for our first trip to the United States (so big that surely each state will need to be treated like a separate country for this project). Our next crime read is taking us to Texas hill country, with The Last Second Chance, a new novel by Jim Nesbitt.