Monday, April 27, 2009

Review: A Beautiful Place to Die

Author: Malla Nunn
Publisher: Pan Macmillan (Aust)
This edition published 2008
ISBN: 9781405038775
399 pages

South Africa in 1952 is not a comfortable place to live. Apartheid laws have been introduced just a few years earlier and the National Party are tightening their stranglehold on the country with their vision of what South Africa should be. The security forces are being granted more powers and are exercising them freely.

When an Afrikaner police officer is murdered in the small town of Jakob’s Rest, Detective Emmanuel Cooper is sent to investigate. The dead man Willem Pretorious is from a prominent family in the district . As an English South African, Cooper is regarded with hostility and suspicion. Cooper’s task is made more difficult and dangerous when the Security Branch decides to take over the case. They have no interest in finding out who was responsible for Pretorious’ death; certainly not if the killer is white. They just want to link the murder to the Communist party and they don’t care how they go about it.

Cooper is out of place in South Africa. He is a man of principle who doesn’t see skin colour and hates the apartheid laws; an attitude that endangers his life as the sons of Pretorious attempt to take the law into their own hands assisted by the Security Branch.

A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE is a book that paints a vivid picture of life under apartheid in the early 1950s. And that picture isn’t pretty. Suspicion and hatred, fear and paranoia are never far from the surface and racially motivated violence ever-present. One wrong move; a look in the wrong direction can cost a life.

The author, Malla Nunn manages to infuse the book with with a strong sense of what it must have been like to live under racial segregation laws without sacrificing plot. As crime fiction it works beautifully. As a commentary of the time it pulls no punches and spares no feelings in portraying supporters of Apartheid as arrogant with a sense of entitlement that they were born to rule. A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE is impressive on every level, particularly more so when you realise this is Nunn’s first novel. I can’t wait to read more.

Malla Nunn was born in Swaziland, Southern Africa, and currently lives in Sydney, Australia. She is a filmmaker with three award-winning films to her credit and is currently at work on her second novel.


Dorte H said...

It sounds as if there are several reasons to read this book :)

As an English teacher I have read several fine short stories about S.A, but never crime.

Cathy said...

I read a small blurb about this book a few months ago and thought it sounded like something I would enjoy. Your review confirms that feeling!

Valerie Roberts said...

I've pre-ordered the paperback with Amazon. It due to come out in October. It might be a good book for my bookgroup.

Sunnie Gill said...

I'll be intereted in what you think of it, Val. So many potential topics for discussion as well.

Kerrie said...

I like the new layout Sunnie

Sunnie Gill said...

Thanks, Kerrie. I got rid of a couple of things that weren't being used and fiddled about with the arrangment.