Friday, March 20, 2009

A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn

This mystery is set in South Africa in 1952. Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper is sent from Johannesburg to investigate the murder of an Afrikaner police captain in a small town. Captain Pretorius’s body is found in a river and the investigation is complicated by the fact that the other side of the river is Mozambique and off limits. Pretorius’s five sons are used to ruling the town and interfere in the investigation as well.

Emmanuel forms an alliance with Shabalala, a black policeman in the town. Shabalala has been given the native name of Mfowemlungu or “brother of the white man”, with Captain Pretorius being the white man with whom he grew up. As Emmanuel looks more into Pretorius’s life he finds a number of contradictions. Unfortunately he is soon sidelined from the case by the Security Branch as discussed here:
“Prime Minister Malan and the National Party had begun to enact their plan as soon as they’d taken office. The new segregation laws divided people into race groups, told them where they could live and told them where they could work. The Immorality Act went so far as to tell people whom they could sleep with and love. The growth of the defiance campaign meant that the Security Branch, or Special Branch as it was tagged on the street, would walk right into Emmanuel’s investigation and call the shots.”

This mystery has many twists and intriguing characters. It is also set in a very interesting time in the history of South Africa, right before there are going to be many changes. I hope the author continues to follow this character in South Africa. It is in reading a book like this for fun that I realize how much history of the world there is that I never studied in school.

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