I’ve read a couple of books recently at opposite ends of the reading spectrum – one’s funny and character-driven, and one’s dark and atmospheric. The first you’ve probably heard of already — Jojo Moyes’ The One Plus One (not as sappy as it sounds! If you enjoy Liane Moriarty or Raffaella Barker you’ll love it) — but the second I hadn’t noticed before, although that’s probably due to my reading prejudices. And I wouldn’t have picked it up off the shelf, because look at that cover! What is it with all books set in Africa having the same look, whether romance or mystery?! It’s always a silhouette of a tree against the sky, probably with a sunset, maybe a giraffe. Come on, publishers, up your game.
I’m not usually much of a crime reader — I definitely veer towards the Dorothy Sayers end of the crime spectrum — but after reading a review of Malla Nunn’s first novel, A Beautiful Place to Die, I was intrigued enough to give it a try. A Beautiful Place to Die kicks off a series of four books (so far), all featuring detective Emmanuel Cooper and all set in 1950s apartheid South Africa.
As has happened to me before, and as could probably be guessed from the title, I’ve fallen in love with the setting. The descriptions of the landscape are so evocative, the tension between such a beautiful country and its ugly laws so captivating, I couldn’t put it down. Even a murder investigation is influenced by apartheid laws in so many ways — Cooper is challenged by his superiors when he investigates white suspects, as upholding the institution of racism is deemed more important than bringing a killer to justice. As might be expected there is a lot of violence simmering beneath the surface.
If you enjoy your crime with a bit of armchair travel and racial politics, this is the book for you! Or if you prefer funny stories about dysfunctional families like The One Plus One, please tell me your favourites in the comments. I’ll need something a bit lighter when I finish Blessed Are the Dead!