THE PERFECT SUSPECT, Vincent Varjavandi


Longueville Media/MacMillan, Oct 2006

Australian doctor Tom Hackett arrived in New Orleans as a Paediatric Surgery Fellow full of joy at his perfect life. Three months later he is back in New South Wales, wifeless. Tom’s wife Olivia has been murdered in New Orleans, and Tom has returned home to learn to live without her. Tom is living in Sydney but commuting to Sanctuary, a small town on the South Coast where he has a clinic in the local hospital.

The first sign that Tom’s past is following him comes when a dozen black roses are left on his Sydney doorstep. “Hell has found you”, says the note nestled among the roses. In Sanctuary that morning a husband finds his wife dead on the kitchen floor, battered to death with a frying pan. Senior Sergeant Jack Maguire, a homicide detective demoted to Sanctuary because he has followed his instincts once too often, feels that there is something odd about this murder, although he can’t put his finger on it. Tom Hackett, on the other hand, knows that there is something strange, when he reads the local newspaper report about the murder, and realises that not only has he met the murdered woman, but her murder bears considerable similarity to his wife Olivia’s.

THE PERFECT SUSPECT is author Vincent Varjavandi’s first novel. It reads a bit like a first novel, too – complex and tangled plot, some unlikely scenarios, and a relatively “all’s well that ends well” ending. But for all that it is not bad; the tension builds well, and the mystery element is well teased out, and I think Vincent has potential.

The relationship between Jack Maguire and his assistant, newly promoted Detective Constable William Tucker, is interestingly described and could provide the basis for future books. The novel is very firmly set in Australia by the author’s inclusion of Australian colloquialisms in dialogue, and in his references to New South Wales place names and events. That said, I don’t think it will reduce its appeal to non-Australian readers.

Vincent Varjavandi is a Sydney-based paediatric surgeon. He uses his medical knowledge sparingly in the novel but it does emerge on occasion in the description of murder scenes and in autopsy reports. Without doubt Tom Hackett is Varjavandi’s mouthpiece and his alter ego. Tom feels strongly about child abuse, paedophilia, and child pornography.

My rating: 3.8

October 2006 Review First published on Murder and Mayhem

Other reviews:

GHOSTLINES, Nick Gadd

Scribe Publications 2008, ISBN 978-1-921372-04-9, 283 pages.

Philip Trudeau was once a journalist with a future, working for Australia’s premier financial newspaper. That was before. Now he’s down almost as low as you can get, holding down a desk on a local suburban rag. The death of a local boy on his bicycle on a level crossing late at night looks an open and shut case. All Philip needs to do is get the story, get some local comments, and then his job is done. The next morning he visits the boy’s mother, his school, and writes his story. Job finished, or so he thinks.

His editor is pleased, until a rival paper picks up on angles he never thought of. And just what was Michael doing dodging around the barriers at that time of night? Where had he come from? And where was he going in such a hurry? Philip’s training as an investigative journalist rises to the top and strange elements of a complex story begin to emerge. Philip is contacted by an 80 year old antiquarian with an obsession who wants a ghost writer to write his memoirs. As we would expect the various threads of the novel converge the longer Philip’s investigation continues. And then someone from Philip’s past reaches out to stop his probing.

GHOSTLINES is Australian writer Nick Gadd’s first novel. For an Australian novelist it has an unusual blend of crime fiction and the paranormal. I’ve actually had GHOSTLINES on my shelves for some months, and I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to get it down. It is well worth looking for.

My rating: 4.5

GHOSTLINES won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award in 2007 for an unpublished novel, and the Ned Kelly award for best first fiction for 2009. Nick Gadd has his own blog site: The writer in disguise.

BLOODY HAM, Brian Kavanagh


published by Bewrite Books 2007
paperback ISBN: 978-1-905202-53-9
ebook ISBN: 978-1-905202-54-6
Details here
I  read this on my Kindle courtesy of a digital copy kindly given to me by the author.

Blurb:
Lights! Camera! Action! . Murder! A rollicking puzzle and a turmoil of personal relationships, some happy, some doomed, some downright evil. The third adventure for Belinda and Hazel continuing the pace and humour that readers have come to acknowledge and appreciate. Excitement and tension begin on the first day of filming a Restoration drama on location at the historic Jacobean mansion, Ham House in Surrey when one of the leading players collapses and dies. With the death ruled non-accidental the director, producer and members of the cast are all suspects. An award winning Hollywood star is brought in to replace the dead actor and Belinda is employed as her stand-in. When another member of the crew is found stabbed to death, Belinda is forced to prove her innocence. In all this tumult, Belinda finds herself torn between her long-time English lover, Mark and the energetic and exuberant Australian, Brad she met again on a trip to Australia.

This novel gives Australian author Brian Kavanagh an opportunity to parade both his knowledge of and extensive experience in the film industry and his delight in English history.

His central characters Australian Belinda Lawrence and local woman Hazel Whitby are well created and very believable. Belinda and Hazel are working in partnership: Hazel runs an antique shop in Bath, and provides Belinda with furniture in her heritage listed house and garden. Their business is commissioned to provide authentic cutlery for the feature film being made at Ham House. Hazel’s latest “young man” is a film editor about to begin work on the Ham House film. He’s an Australian who has not visited the West country before and Hazel has been showing him the sights. Belinda, on the other hand, has recently been home to Australia and has just returned, and is feeling a bit ambivalent about her lover Mark. Belinda bears a passing resemblance to one of the stars of the film and is invited to be a stand-in.

The plot of BLOODY HAM is well developed: there are a number of connected deaths before it comes to its conclusion, and a cast of interesting characters. Like earlier novels in the series this novel is really a “cosy”.

I liked the way Kavanagh added a few Australian characters to this novel, and the way he played with their language and characteristics.

My rating: 4.2

Other reviews to enjoy:
Reactions to Reading: Bloody Ham offers an entertaining combination of an old-fashioned whodunit with characters who are fun to meet.

BeWrite Books will be publishing A CANTERBURY CRIME, the exciting fourth book in the popular Belinda Lawrence mystery series. Following on from CAPABLE OF MURDER, THE EMBROIDERED CORPSE, BLOODY HAM, Belinda & Hazel travel to Canterbury in Kent and investigate the death of a Professor who was about to publish a book concerning the murder of St Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. Paperback & eBook versions. Publication date to be announced soon.

Video teaser:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rP0uXfO0F8k
Author’s site: http://beekayvic.tripod.com

My mini reviews of the two earlier titles in the series:
CAPABLE OF MURDER (2005), my rating 3.9
Young Australian living in London, Belinda Lawrence, is contacted by her great aunt who lives near Bath. The old lady has something important that she wants to tell her. Belinda finds her aunt’s decaying body at the foot of the stairs in her cottage but appearances seem to indicate that she has had an accidental fall.  Various events and coincidences convince Belinda that her aunt was in fact murdered. Belinda decides to live in the cottage she has inherited from her aunt, more people die, and she is not sure who to trust. The book takes a lot from the tradition of English village “cosies”  and reminded me a little of books I used to read decades ago – Victoria Holt, Susan Howatch and similar “gothic” style novelists. For me it was just a little old-fashioned, but it was a quick read, and plot content was interesting enough.

THE EMBROIDERED CORPSE (2006), my rating 4.1
#2 in the Belinda Lawrence series. Set about 2 years after the first (CAPABLE OF MURDER), Belinda now has her inherited cottage set up with its re-constructed Capability Brown garden. Antique collector Hazel Whitby has furnished it with appropriate furniture and it is now on the tourist bus routes, bringing in a small income. Real estate agent Mark Sallinger completes the investigative trio as wll as providing the romance interest. On their way back from an antiques fair at Castle Howard, Belinda and Hazel call in at Kidbrooke House and are shown a framed piece of tapestry by its elderly owner. It reminds Belinda of the Bayeux tapestry and she decides she wants to see the Bayeux replica at Reading. Just after their visit to Kidbrooke House its elderly owner is murdered. Hazel buys some furniture from his deceased estate and accidentally becomes the owner of the tapestry which she gives to Belinda. This book is a delightful romp somewhat in the vein of Margaret Rutherford’s interpretation of Miss Marple. I suspect Brian Kavanagh is rather enjoying writing these stories with their mixture of murder, mayhem and romance.
THE EMBROIDERED CORPSE  has indications that he is constantly honing his craft, and I think they would be popular with YA female readers. Try to read them in order (CAPABLE OF MURDER, then THE EMBROIDERED CORPSE)

GUNSHOT ROAD, Adrian Hyland

This edition published by Soho Press 2010
ISBN 978-1-56947-636-9
372 pages

When Tom McGillivray, superintendent of the Bluebush Police and an old friend of the Tempest clan, came up with some paid employment for Emily Tempest as an Aboriginal Community Police Officer, she was happy to accept. The deal was that she would spend a month in Bluebush in training and then she’d be based at Moonlight Downs as its ACPO.

Emily’s just come back from a short training course in Darwin in time to catch the tail end of the Bluebush aboriginal community’s Young Man’s Time. On her way from the women’s camp to work she stops and washes off her body art under a garden hose, and dons her oversize police uniform. That in itself seems symbolic, as she attempts to bridge two cultures.

She arrives at work to find that there’s been a murder: One oldie has killed another out at Green Swamp Well, and McGillivray is in hospital, his place taken by a new senior sergeant Bruce Cockburn. On their way to the crime scene Emily senses something out of place and discovers a Range Rover that’s gone off the road, its occupants spilled into the gully and in need of help.
When they eventually make it to Green Swamp Well, Emily finds that she knows both the victim, and the apparent perpetrator, two eccentrics who had a history of argumentation, but were underneath it all the best of mates.

Emily was never going to get on with Senior Sergeant Cockburn: where he tries to simplify things, she sees complications. Emily’s aboriginal background gives her a heightened sense of disturbed balance. He reminds her that she is simply meant to be a liaison officer not an investigator, but Emily really can’t help herself.

There is such a lot to like about this book: starting with Emily herself and her unexpected sense of humour, and then there is such a range of interesting and intriguing characters, and description that takes you right into the heart of the outback. I like the way Hyland layers our introduction to people and events. One or two characters from his earlier novel DIAMOND DOVE make an appearance. Emily herself seems more certain of who she is, and she has a status with the locals that I didn’t pick up in the earlier novel.

The author says, in the blog post he wrote for Readings:
Takes a little time for the country to get to know you.
…..
It is this world-view, and its ongoing clash with the threshing machine of Western materialism, that lies at the heart of Gunshot Road. I find this conflict utterly compelling, and of great significance; 

I have no hesitation in  recommending that you find a copy of GUNSHOT ROAD.
My rating: 5.0

Other reviews to check

Debut author Adrian Hyland topped the oz_mystery_readers 2007 best reads list with DIAMOND DOVE with 5 people recommending it. The group discussed it in September when Adrian was the group’s guest on Quiz an Author, an event when an author is invited to be an online guest for a week, and questions and answers fly thick and fast. Fresh from being named the Ned Kelly best first fiction novel of the year winner at Melbourne Writers Festival, Adrian was frank and eloquent in his replies and has remained an active member of the list.
DIAMOND DOVE was given a rating of 5 by the members, a rare achievement in itself. The only other book to be given a rating of 5 was RAVEN BLACK by Ann Cleeves.

DIAMOND DOVE has been published in the US as MOONLIGHT DOWNS.

My review of DIAMOND DOVE:
Emily Tempest returns to Moonlight Downs, a scatter of corrugated iron hovels nine hours from Alice Springs out in the spinifex desert, 14 years after leaving to go to secondary school in Adelaide. The daughter of a local miner, Motor Jack, she is welcomed home by Lincoln Flinders, the head of the community. The Moonlight mob have only recently returned to their land themselves. The Moonlight mob are Emily’s community by adoption – her mother was a Wantiya woman from the Gulf Country. Unmistakably aboriginal in appearance, Emily has not yet decided which world she belongs to – aboriginal or white. She meets up with Lincoln’s daughter Hazel, her best friend in the past. The morning after Emily arrives, Lincoln is found dead, unmistakably murdered, and Emily finds it impossible to rest until she knows who killed him. Adrian Hyland’s debut novel. Very polished writing and a feel of authenticity about the setting and customs. I came away feeling I had learnt quite a lot.

DEAD MAN’S CHEST, Kerry Greenwood

Read on my Kindle
e-book supplied for review by US Publisher Poisoned Pen Press. through NetGalley.com
US Publication date:  late 2010
ISBN-13: 978-1590587997
Australian publication date: October 2010
#18 in the Phryne Fisher series.

Publisher’s blurb
Phryne Fisher needs a rest. It’s summer. She packs up her family and moves to Queenscliff, a quiet watering place on the coast. Where she meets with smugglers, pirate treasure and some very interesting surrealists, including a parrot called Pussykins. What is the  mysterious Madame Selavy hiding? Where are the Johnsons, who were supposed to be in the holiday house? 

Phryne has promised everyone a nice quiet holiday by the sea but when they arrive at the holiday house to find the live-in help missing, along with all the pantry supplies, the fun is just beginning. The house belongs to an anthropologist, and acquaintance really, who is travelling some where in the Far North of Australia. He has assured Phryne that the missing couple are very reliable, which makes their absence all the more puzzling. Phryne has with her her companion Dot, and her two foster daughters Ruth and Jane, and so they all decide to see if they can fend for themselves. They soon acquire another member of the household in the form of Tinker, a young boy loaned from the house next door. Her search for the missing Johnsons results in Phryne being mugged on her way home one night and so she becomes even more determined to solve the mystery. Tinker shows he has a real aptitude for sleuthing, Ruth delights in cooking for the family, and Jane is in seventh heaven when she manages to get into a locked room in the house.

The Phryne Fisher series are generally set in Victoria in the 1920s. In DEAD MAN’S CHEST a film is being made about a local legend, Benito’s Treasure.

    Pirate Benito Benita is said to have buried plundered Spanish treasure in a cave in the cliffs of Swan Bay in 1798. Other aspects of the legend entail Benita being caught in the act by the British navy and sealing the cave entrance with gunpowder.  more

In many ways the Phryne Fisher books are cozies. There is a development of characters from one book in the series to the next, although they can also be read as standalones. In DEAD MAN’S CHEST there is a range of credible and incredible characters and enough mystery to whet the appetite.

My rating: 4.3

I should point out that, though I read this review copy on my Kindle,  it does not appear from Amazon that there is any intent of releasing this title on Kindle at the moment.
However if you have a Kindle, and are willing to review books, why not join Netgalley yourself and request a review copy from the Poisoned Pen Press listings? You don’t have to have a blog to submit reviews – they have a very nice submission form too.

My review of the previous book in the series: MURDER ON A MIDSUMMER NIGHT

Kerry Greenwood also writes the Corinna Chapman series
TRICK OR TREAT
FORBIDDEN FRUIT

Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher website.is well worth exploring.

Phryne Fisher
1. Cocaine Blues (1989)
     aka Death by Misadventure
2. Flying Too High (1990)
3. Murder on the Ballarat Train (1991)
4. Death at Victoria Dock (1992)
5. The Green Mill Murder (1993)
6. Blood and Circuses (1994)
7. Ruddy Gore (1995)
8. Urn Burial (1996)
9. Raisins and Almonds (1997)
10. Death Before Wicket (1999)
11. Away with the Fairies (2001)
12. Murder in Montparnasse (2002)
13. The Castlemaine Murders (2003)
14. Queen of the Flowers (2004)
15. Death By Water (2005)
16. Murder in the Dark (2006)
17. Murder on a Midsummer Night (2008)
18. Dead Man’s Chest (2010)

SILK CHASER, Peter Klein

Pan Macmillan Australia 2010
319 pages
ISBN 9-781405-039765
Copy supplied for review by the publisher

Publisher’s Blurb

A serial killer is stalking young, female strappers. No one knows who it is, why he’s doing it, or who is likely to be next. The police and the race clubs seem powerless to do anything. The women are terrified and the union is threatening to go on strike and close down the entire racing industry unless security can be guaranteed and the killer caught.
Meanwhile, John Punter’s got problems closer to home to worry about. There’s a protection racket afoot and his restaurant Gino’s is getting lent on. Then there’s his new girlfriend Maxine. Everyone says she’s trouble. She’s the socialite daughter of a shock-jock announcer; the biggest rating name in radio and a major client of his father’s stable. And he’s made it clear he doesn’t want Punter hanging around…
Back at the track, as the body count mounts, Punter finds himself involved in a desperate race against time to find a crazed killer.

This is #3 of Klein’s Punter series, and I’m hooked. SILK CHASER is the best so far. Among the things that I like are the readability, the yarn that flows well, the continuing threads and characters from the previous novels, the authentic Australian flavour, and the believable scenarios.

My rating: 4.5

If you’d like to sample before you buy, the publishers have provided the first chapter online.

However, if you haven’t read either of the others in the series, PUNTER’S LUCK and PUNTER’S TURF, then this is a series where you really should take advantage of the chance to begin on the ground floor. Peter Klein has avoided overloading each novel with back-story, and while there is just enough to help the reader  understand what has gone before, reading the series in order will show you character and plot development.

You can buy SILK CHASER as an e-book in pdf, .mobi, and epub, which really means you should be able to read it on the device of your choice.
The only thing wrong with the Macmillan e-book provision is that the price ($25.45) is pretty high (unrealistically so) in my opinion.
Amazon do have it for a lower price for Kindle but by the time you take the exchange rate into account, you might save a few dollars. PUNTER’S TURF is available for Kindle at a more “usual” price.

A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE, Malla Nunn

Macmillan 2008
ISBN 978-1-405-03877-5
397 pages
Borrowed from my library.

From Wikipedia:
Apartheid was a system of legal racial segregation enforced by the National Party government in South Africa between 1948 and 1994, under which the rights of the majority ‘non-white’ inhabitants of South Africa were curtailed and minority rule by white people was maintained.
New legislation classified inhabitants into racial groups (“black”, “white”, “coloured”, and “Indian”), and residential areas were segregated, sometimes by means of forced removals.

It is against this background that Malla Nunn sets A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE.
It is September 1952. A white man’s body has been found in deep country, in the river that separates South Africa from Mozambique. The body floats face down within reach of the river’s edge on the South African side. Some kaffir boys found the body, and now it is being guarded by a nineteen year old Afrikaner constable. Three Afrikaner men, built like rugby players, stand a little way off, waiting for the investigating team from Johannesburg to arrive. For the dead man is their father, Captain Willem Pretorius, the local police chief. And the investigating “team” is Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper, sent out solo on the murder of a white police captain.

Cooper had been investigating another murder only an hour away and had been despatched to check the “possible” homicide. At the scene also is the man Pretorius had grown up with, Constable Shabalala, a Zulu. The opening scene gives Cooper a lesson in how the social structure works around here. The Pretorius sons think  their father has been killed by Mozambique smugglers, but Cooper is not so sure.

Finding a doctor who can sign a death certificate leads him to meet “the Jew”, Zweigman, who is an elderly  German living with his wife in a shanty town where there are no English or Afrikaners.

Things become even more complex when Cooper’s boss in Johannesburg tells him that the Security Branch has decided that the murder may be political, and that they are sending a team to take over the investigation. Cooper will be expected to co-operate.

A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE is a fascinating exploration of relationships in an area where white supremacy is already an acknowledged way of life. However the newly passed racial segregation laws are about more than who rules. Emmanuel Cooper can’t be sure that even he is going to get out alive.

This was an impressive debut book, and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, LET THE DEAD LIE.
If  you’d like to read some opening pages click on the image to the right.

My rating: 5.0

Emmanuel Cooper has recently returned from Europe, from the war, leaving behind his English wife, but not leaving behind his sergeant major, a Scotsman, who gave soldiers advice on how to kill before they were killed, who lives on in his mind. This, his sometimes blurred vision, and the headaches, indicate a man who is still suffering from post traumatic stress. He reminded me of the central character created by Charles Todd, Ian Rutledge, who is constantly reminded of the war (in this case World War One) by the ever present voice of Hamish MacLeod, “Hamish in his head”.

Other reviews to check:

  • Petrona: “this book is more than a crime novel, and it is one that will rest in the mind for a while.”
  • Reactions to Reading: “yet another book that has everything I look for in my crime fiction”
  • Reviewing the Evidence: “an extraordinarily powerful novel”

A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE won the 2009 Sisters in Crime (Australia) Davitt Award for Best Adult Crime Novel,  and was shortlisted in 2010 for Edgar Award and is also shortlisted for Macavity Award for Best First Novel

About Malla Nunn
Malla Nunn grew up in Swaziland before moving with her parents to Perth in the 1970s. She attended university in WA, and then the US. In New York, she worked on film sets, wrote her first screenplay and met her American husband-to-be, before returning to Australia where she began writing and directing short films and corporate videos. Fade to White, Sweetbreeze and Servant of the Ancestors have won numerous awards and have shown at international film festivals from Zanzibar to New York. Malla and her husband live in Sydney with their two children.

Malla Nunn & Others Talk About The Stories Behind Their Stories

See also the Simon & Schuster site.

BEAT NOT THE BONES, Charlotte Jay

first published 1952
edition I read SOHO PRESS 1995
ISBN 1-56947-047-2
219 pages
Winner of the First Edgar Award for Best Novel 1954
source: borrowed
Also available through Wakefield Press in the Wakefield Crime Classics.
Two other Charlotte Jay titles:
A Hank of Hair
Arms for Adonis

Once Stella Warwick was meant to come to Marapai in Papua New Guinea as a young Australian bride. Now, a little over 6 months later, she comes to find out who murdered her husband.

Although her husband, a distinguished anthropologist in charge of protecting the natives from exploitation, was over 20 years older than her, and in reality she barely knew him, Stella feels that the verdict of suicide after David’s death is really out of character.

David Warwick died over 3 days walk into the jungle away, and as Stella attempts to visit there, she becomes aware that everyone is telling her lies. Nobody wants her to uncover the truth.

The novel is as much about how the officials of the Australian protectorate and handling cultural and climatic differences, as it is about whether David Warwick was murdered or whether he committed suicide. The story is played out against the background of interaction and conflict between a supposedly primitive culture and Australian civilisation.

Charlotte Jay lived and worked in Papua New Guinea 1942-1950 and obviously placed BEAT NOT THE BONES in a setting with which she was very familiar. This was her second mystery novel and Anthony Boucher commented on “its deft plot”.

BEAT NOT THE BONES gives the reader plenty to think about. I read it for my final Australasian crime fiction title in the 2010 Global Reading Challenge.

My rating: 4.5

Other references and reviews to check

Charlotte Jay was the pseudonym adopted by Australian mystery writer and novelist, Geraldine Halls (17 December 1919 – 27 October 1996).

A CANTERBURY CRIME, Brian Kavanagh

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 386 KB
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: BeWrite Books (October 19, 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00480ODQU
  • Published by BeWrite Books 2010 ISBN 978-1-906609-42-9
  • source: I bought it.

This novel begins with a brief background to the history of Canterbury and in particular to the murder of its Archbishop in the Cathedral just after Christmas in 1170.

Antiques dealer Hazel Whitby and her Australian companion Belinda Lawrence have been asked to catalogue and value the contents of a deceased estate, the Manor House. It is just a few days to Christmas and Hazel and Belinda will be spending Christmas in Canterbury.

Professor de Gray died nearly six months earlier, supposedly from a heart attack. But Hazel and Belinda hear stories of there having been “blood on his head” and the Professor’s body was cremated with almost indecent haste, the day after his death.

They have been commissioned by Miss Mowbray (who reminds Belinda of a modern Mrs Danvers) to evaluate the contents of the Manor House, which turns out to be a virtual Aladdin’s Cave. Shortly after they begin work, Miss Mowbray goes up to London, and there meets with an accident.

As with the other 3 titles in this series, I enjoyed the historical background that Kavanagh uses to give depth to the story. Belinda’s romance with the handsome Mark (who appeared in #2) and her partnership with Hazel provide continuity from one novel to the next. (If oyu are new to the series, I strongly suggest you read them in order). Like its predecessors A CANTERBURY CRIME is a pleasant whodunnit in the true cozy tradition.

A CANTERBURY CRIME is a light enjoyable read, with a murder investigation by a couple of likeable amateur sleuths.

My rating 4.3

My reviews of earlier titles.

LET THE DEAD LIE, Malla Nunn

Pan Macmillan Australia 2010
ISBN 978-1-4050-3920-8
390 pages
Source: my local library

Publisher’s blurb:

In Let the Dead Lie, Cooper is a changed man. Forced to resign from his position of Detective Sergeant and re-classified as mixed race, he winds up powerless and alone in the tough coastal city of Durban, mixing labouring with a bit of surveillance work for his old boss, Major van Niekerk.
Patrolling the freight yards one night, Cooper stumbles upon the body of a young white boy and, the detective in him can not, or will not, walk away. When two more bodies – this time black women – are discovered at his boarding house, he unwittingly becomes the prime suspect in a triple murder case.
At van Niekerk’s behest, Cooper’s given 48 hours to clear his name and – unofficially – solve the three murders. And so, temporarily back to being a European Detective Sergeant, he launches headlong into Durban’s seedy underworld, a viper’s nest of prostitution, drug running and violence run by a colourful cast of characters including wannabe Indian gangsters; a mysterious figure who drives a white De Soto convertible; a Zion Gospel preacher, and the exquisite yet streetwise Lana, who also happens to be van Niekerk’s mistress…

My take
LET THE DEAD LIE takes place in Durban, South Africa, in May 1953, 8 months after the action of Malla Nunn’s debut crime novel A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE which I reviewed earlier this year. Events moved on after the conclusion of the action covered in that novel. Apartheid has become deeper entrenched in Souther Africa, and just 6 months earlier Emmanuel Cooper lost his job in the police force because he upset the Security forces. He now works for his former boss in an undercover role.

Among the characters in LET THE DEAD LIE, and important to understanding the plot are Russians who were close to Josef Stalin, by this time dead. The writing style of LET THE DEAD LIE has a modern feel about it, and I kept forgetting that the action was taking place in 1953. The plot is many stranded and complex. Adding to the complexity are details from Cooper’s past, some going back to his childhood, and some from his experiences in Paris in 1945 at the end of the war.

I was glad to meet up again with Zweigman, the German doctor, and Shabalala, the Zulu police constable from A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE. I commented in my review of  A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE  about the sergeant major who offers Cooper advice in times of stress, particularly when he has a migraine coming on. He plays with Cooper’s head in LET THE DEAD LIE too.

It would have been remarkable if Australian author Malla Nunn had been able to achieve the same level of writing in LET THE DEAD LIE as she did in A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE. However, I do think this second novel has a level of complexity that the first didn’t, and is therefore a more difficult read, and I struggled at times to know what was going on.

My rating: 4.5

Other Reviews:
Reactions to Reading
Petrona

LET THE DEAD LIE was a nomination for the 2010 CWA Ellis Peters Historical Award.