A Beautiful Place to Die
South Africa, 1952. Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper is sent to investigate the murder of Afrikaner police officer Captain Willem Pretorius in the remote town of Jacob’s Rest. As Emmanuel digs deeper into Pretorius’s double life, he must also stay one step ahead of the dead man’s thuggish sons and Security Branch officers intent on pinning the murder on black political activists.
Although this novel is gritty and hard-hitting (sometimes literally), there is a seam of dry humour running through which prevents it from becoming too grim. This is most obvious in the characterisation of Hansie Hepple, the white teenage constable whose complete indoctrination in the idea of white supremacy makes him blind to where the evidence is pointing. Yet, according to the absurd race laws, he outranks the black constable, Shabalala, despite the latter’s greater experience and phenomenal observational and tracking skills.
This may be Nunn’s first novel, but her experience as an award-winning screenwriter is obvious in the confident way she creates characters, evokes the setting, and structures the plot so that there is no letup in the tension until the very last page. I’ll definitely keep my eye open for her next book.