Thursday, July 08, 2010
New South African noir by Jassy Mackenzie
There's a lot of violence and several false leads in Jassy Mackenzie's first "Jade de Jong" investigation, Random Violence, recently published in the U.S. by Soho Press. Mackenzie also gives us a vivid portrait of post-apartheid Johannesburg, including suburban houses walled in against the violence, crumbling cityscapes, property speculation, some neighborhoods and townships flourishing while others descend into poverty, gangs, and neglect. The plot concerns Jade's return from self-imposed exile after 10 years working as a private investigator abroad.
What brings her back is the release from prison of a man against whom she has sworn revenge, in connection with the murder of her policeman father. Her father's protege, David Patel, asks Jade for help with a difficult case (a murder/carjacking), not knowing that she will also be colluding with a petty gangster who has promised to help her with her revenge (and who has helped her with a previous revenge incident). The revenge plot carries forward into a plot twist while the murder gets more complicated (not random violence at all), and Jade's gender adds an interesting gender-twist to the noir tale, not only in the tough-girl as central character but also in the twist on the damsel-in-distress at the end.
As she draws closer to an answer to the puzzle, David is suspended (when his boss discovers Jade's other agenda), the gangster-collaborator is sidelined, and Jade is left alone to face a killer that we have already seen graphically and gruesomely murder a couple of people. Given the extreme violence depicted (and also promised in the villain's musings as presented in the narrative), I found the conclusion a bit flat—not that I was hoping for more hyper-violence but given the villain's plans and prior actions, the denoument seems a bit quick and a bit contrived. Nevertheless, Random Violence is not only a detailed and involving portrait of a struggling, hopeful, and violent culture, but also a new take on the rapidly developing field of South African noir and a good read.