Category Archives: Malla Nunn

Book review: Silent Valley

International crime fiction sometimes feels like a contest between the Scandinavians and the Irish. If so, the South Africans are closing ground on both of them.

Think of writers like Margie Orford, Roger Smith and Mike Nicol, just to name a few.

Although less well known, Swaziland born, Australia-based author Malla Nunn deserves a place among this group. Silent Valley is her third book, set in fifties South Africa and featuring the character of Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper.

Her first book, A Beautiful Place to Die (2008) won rave reviews. It involved Cooper investigating the murder of a prominent Afrikaner policeman Captain Willem Pretorius, in the small town of Jacob’s Rest on South Africa’s border with Mozambique.

Her second, Let the Dead Lie (2010) saw Cooper expelled from the police and reduced to working on the docks of Durban. It didn’t do nearly so well (although I’ve heard some very good reports about it).

Silent Valley sees Cooper back in the force and in familiar territory, investigating the murder of a young girl – the bride to be of a powerful, overbearing Zulu chief, in a remote part of South Africa. There’s a truckload of suspects, everyone from the head of the local police to members of the white family she worked for as a domestic, with a bit of black magic and sexual deviancy thrown into the mix for good measure.… Read more

Book review: Dust Devils

You can bet crime writer Roger Smith is not on the Christmas card list of the South African Tourist Board. His third novel, Dust Devils, is one of the most violent and blistering crime novels I’ve read in a long while. It’s also a pretty bleak picture of post-Apartheid South Africa.

The plot kicks off with a home invasion that leaves one man dead and his female companion running for her life.

She happens to be the wife of sacked journalist Robert Dell. Within a few pages, their car has been run of the road, the wife and two young children have been incinerated and Dell, thrown clear of the blast, is being fitted up by corrupt police to take the blame as a murder/suicide.

The killer, a Zulu called Inja Mazibuko, is a psychopathic cop attached to special unit of the corrupt Minister of Justice. Dell is a loose end that he must now tidy up.

Dell escapes with the help of the father, Robert Goodbread, a former CIA black operative involved in Vietnam and the former South Africa’s dirty little border wars.

Recently released from jail where he was serving a sentence for taking part in the massacre of black civilians, Goodbread is dying of lung cancer and despised by his son.… Read more

SheKilda and women’s crime writing in Australia

It’s when someone asks you to contribute a blog post on the state of female crime writing in Australia from the point of someone watching the industry, that you realise you just don’t read enough.

Not nearly enough.

That said, in my view, female crime writing in this country looks in rude health.

Exhibit A is SheKilda this weekend, the women’s crime writing conference I’ve been asked to write this blog post to coincide with. There’ll be 60 speakers spanning fiction, true crime, young adult, ‘crimance’ and screenwriting. With the exception of the Crime and Justice Festival, there’s nothing else like it.

The 53 books by local female writers entered in the current Davitt awards for female crime writing, is Exhibit B.

It’s when you make statements like these that you come up against claims female crime writers are discriminated in reviewing and awards. Certainly, studies overseas have shown that female writers are vastly underrepresented in the review sections of newspapers. I presume the same is true here.

Awards? Let’s look at the top categories for the last ten years of the Ned Kelly Awards, 2002 – 2011.

The results are fairly split in the category of true crime. Five women have won it (it was tied between two women in 2007) and five men (with the result being tied between two men in 2002).… Read more

Book review: A Beautiful Place to Die

Malla Nunn’s 2008 book A Beautiful Place to Die has been on my reading list for ages. It’s great. Pretty much as damn near perfect a first crime novel as I’ve find.

The book’s strengths – fantastic writing, an amazing sense of place, a wonderful less is more quality – are established in the first paragraph.

“Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper switched off the engine and looked out through the dirty windscreen. He was in deep country. To get any deeper he’d have to travel back in time to the Zulu wars. Two Ford pick-up trucks, a white Mercedes and a police van parked to his right placed him in the twentieth century. Ahead of him a group of black farm workers stood along a rise with their backs towards him. The hard line of their shoulders obscured what lay ahead.”

A Beautiful Place to Die is set in South Africa in the early fifties at the dawn of the Apartheid system. Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper has been sent to investigate the murder of prominent Afrikaner policeman Captain Willem Pretorius, in the small town of Jacob’s Rest on South Africa’s border with Mozambique.

Not only does Emmanuel have to deal with Pretorius’s angry sons, two very nasty special branch detectives are sniffing around the case, sure that the murder is a political killing, the work of communists.… Read more