Monday, February 19, 2018

Weeping Waters, by Karin Brynard

One of the reviewers of the original South African edition of Weeping Waters, by Karin Brynard,
called the author "the Afrikaans Stieg Larsson," but the comparison is way o ff the mark. Even the author's own tribute to Deon Meyer, the most prominent Afrikaans crime writer, doesn't really illuminate Weeping Waters very much. Brynard's novel made me think of both Zoe Wiomb's David's Story (for its evocation of the Khoi-San people of South Africa) and Gillian Slovo's Red Dust (for its examination rural post-apartheid South Africa): but Weeping Waters doesn't imitate either of thos ebooks.

Brynard uses the form of the police procedural rather loosely, as one element of her lengthy (just over 500 pages) story of a family torn apart by illness and misunderstandings, of the indigenous people of South Africa (a very complicated story, examined at lennth in various passages of the book), of fear and racism among the white farmers underthe new regime, and of a lonely cop exiled into a rural town that he has difficulty understanding or coping with.

There is a violent murder (and references to even more violent murders, white supremacist preachers and farmers,  there's traditional culture and history, and there are the murder victim's haunting paintings. The central characters include the cop, the victim's journalist sister, the victim's farm-manager (of indigenous background), and various other cops, farmers, devvelopers, farmhands, and others. The story can be repetitive, but never drags: the repetitive elements spiral toward a violent conclusion that highlights the country's struggles with inequality, history, and rapidly changing society afte rthe fall of apartheid. Of the substantial number of crime writers in the new South Africa, Brynard is one of the most ambitious in scope, but her style is straightforward, always focused on the reality of the characters' lives.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

2 by Mick Herron

Mick Herron has two new books out, both dealing (as is usual for Herron) with the British secret services, though (as is also usual for Herron) in unusual ways, especially in one of the new books. The more usual of the two is London Rules, the latest entry in the "Slow Horses" series, featuring a band of disgraced MI-5 agents working in a seedy building far removed from the security services headquarters By now, we know the pattern of the books in this series, and London Rules fulfills our expectations: from the atmospheric opening to the twisty plot, the disdain with which the headquarters stff regards the "slow horses," in the Slough House exile that gives them their name, and in the ultimage though costly engagement of the slow horses with the current threat. The formula is still enjoyable, though the twists and turns are to be expected now (the surprises were a major part of the enjoyment of the first novel, Slow Horses), and Lonodon Rules has a bit of a suggestion that the series may be drawing to a close soon, not least in the unlikely reappearance of one of the most appealing characters from Slow Horses.

The other new novel, This is What Happened, is rather different, not least in how the secret services figure in the plot. There is an unexpected kidnapping wiht an unexpected outcome, a dystopian tale, a dogged investigator without any official portfolio, and a claustrophobic atmostphere that remains regardless of the sudden shifts in point of view (and the sudden shifts in the reader's realization of what actually is going on). Though not as comic as the Slow Horses series, this stand-alone is vintage Herron, and an interesting departure from his usual style, not least in the closed-in quality of the setting of a good part of the book.