News from South Africa by Michael Sears

By Michael Sears

A year ago I interviewed Jassy Mackenzie about her thriller THE FALLEN, the third in her series about a very competent and dangerous lady – Jade de Jong – and her policeman partner David Patel.  If you haven’t read THE FALLEN yet, do yourself that favor while you wait for the new book – PALE HORSES – to be out in the US next month.  The horse in question is the fourth horse of the apocalypse, and, as THE WITNESS newspaper commented in South Africa, “Jade and David Patel find themselves in a race against time as they deal with sinister and very powerful forces in a satisfyingly tense and convoluted plot.

Jassy was born in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), moved to South Africa when she was eight years old, and now lives in Johannesburg. She loves the energy, danger and excitement of Johannesburg, and believes there is no better place for a thriller writer to live.

Mike Nicol interviewed her about PALE HORSES for Crimebeat:

In your previous novel, THE FALLEN, the story was built on a possible environmental disaster. In your new novel, PALE HORSES, the theme recurs, except this time the disaster has happened. At the heart of the book is a concern with genetically modified crops. Clearly the dangers posed to our environment by pollution and our manipulation of natural processes is a major concern to you?

Yes, it is. This type of damage is often irreparable, which I believe makes this type of threat all the more serious, with so many people and organizations hell-bent on destroying their environment for the sake of greed.

Will similar issues occur in future books?

Definitely in the future, but not in the next couple of Jade books. I have other issues planned for Jade to sink her metaphorical teeth into.

Johannesburg is your fictional city yet you took a break in THE FALLEN by setting that book on the KwaZulu north coast, and in PALE HORSES there are sections set in the Karoo, in the area near Beaufort West. Do you feel it is important to move outside the city, to spread the geography of your novels?

It depends on the case. Although Jade is based in Jo’burg, as a P.I. she takes on whatever cases come her way and sometimes that means travelling to other destinations in order to interview people and investigate clues. Also, as a writer, I don’t want to end up “stuck” in Jo’burg any more than Jade does.

Your main characters, Jade de Jong and David Patel, are back in this book. When we last left them their relationship was in tatters. This story continues their relationship and reveals other secrets, which we won’t go into here. This relationship is the center of your books, why do you feel it is so important?

Well, it’s important to them, because they are in love. As long as they are living in the same city as each other, and basically working in the same industry, they’re forced by circumstance to interact with each other and so the problem that is their relationship isn’t going to go away. They are both strong willed people but neither has the willpower or the desire to permanently break things off.

Jade de Jong is as ruthless in Pale Horses as in the other novels. Her thinking is very much along the lines of if the end is okay, then the means don’t particularly matter. This does raise moral issues but it also leads to a complexity of character. Is Jade de Jong immoral?

Without a doubt she is, but she doesn’t think so. She thinks she’s fine and the rest of the world is wrong. That is what makes her fun to write about.

The story is not only about a recent crime but about older crimes as well. The history of how land has been usurped and used or misused is a major theme. On top of this comes a history of how people have been abused in this land battle, dispossessed, murdered. Do you see land as one of the central issues of our history?

Yes. It has been, and still is, the subject of so much conflict and the cause of so much hatred and bitterness. And yet, when you think about it, what right does any human being really have to lay claim to a piece of this planet and say they “own” it?

There is an intriguing character who appears at the beginning and end of the novel, Magdalena Eckhardt. She is an observer only, almost like a member of a Greek chorus who has stepped aside. Where did she come from? And will you develop her in future?

No. She just happened to be there at the start and the end of this novel. I thought it would be fun to include her to help set the scene and offer the reader a somewhat inaccurate outsider’s perspective on Jade and her situation. I watch people all the time and make up stories just like she does, and I am sure most of mine are horribly wrong too. However, Magdalena is too busy getting her hair done and having facials and Botox and doing shopping to be available for subsequent books.

There is a fair amount of complex stock market and futures trading at the base of the plot. No doubt this is a nod and a wink at the shenanigans that have gone on internationally with insider trading and the banking fiasco?

Actually, it’s because I drew inspiration for Chris Theron’s character from a friend of mine, who is an independent financial trader. I have known him for years and seen the knife-edge of stress that he operates under when the markets are volatile and millions can be won or lost when they turn. So really, the plot of PALE HORSES was drawn from the character of Theron himself.

As a novelist you are careful to ensure that your scenes have plenty of explication. But the clue to Jade’s final action in the epilogue is deeply buried. It shows that Jade de Jong is a smart cookie and we have to be wide awake to keep up with her.

Yes – Jade is not just a woman of action but also somebody who knows her way around the commodity markets and can out think her adversaries on a number of different levels. And she’s slim, and tans easily. If she wasn’t psychopathic by nature and a walking disaster in terms of relationships, she’d be irritatingly perfect. But luckily she’s not.

You have used Biblical references before – MY BROTHER’S KEEPER springs to mind. Why the apocalypse this time?

This is actually the first time I’ve used them because MY BROTHER’S KEEPER was originally titled GANGSTER’S PARADISE, but the publisher thought that title wouldn’t work. As far as PALE HORSES goes, it needed an apocalyptic title because it’s about the threat of worldwide plague and famine, which is symbolized so vividly by the pale horse and rider in Revelation.

Since your crime fiction career began in 2008 with RANDOM VIOLENCE you have been able to bring out a book a year. That’s a demanding task. Are you working at the same pace?

Yes. I think it’s important to bring out a book a year, especially if those books are part of a series, because it gives it continuity.

No doubt there is a new Jade de Jong thriller on your laptop right now. If so could you give us a teaser by giving the opening lines?

“They tied up all the loose ends in the States. Fast, clean, efficient. They leaned on the wife of one; permanently silenced two. Then, acting upon information uncovered when they were working on the second, they went back and permanently silenced the woman they’d leaned on, too.

There was no margin for error here, not with what they were doing. They were a small team but an effective one, and extremely well paid. Paid to fix situations like this, no questions asked and no problems reported.

There was a small problem here, though.

The third man they needed had fled the country.”

Michael Sears

Michael Sears writes with Stanley Trollip under the name Michael Stanley. Their novels, featuring Detective Kubu, are set in Botswana, a fascinating country with magnificent conservation areas and varied peoples. The mysteries are set against current southern Africa issues such as the plight of the Bushman peoples of the Kalahari (DEATH OF THE MANTIS, shortlisted for Edgar and Anthony awards, won a Barry award in 2011), the pervasive power of witch doctors (DEADLY HARVEST, shortlisted for an ITW Thriller award in 2014), blood diamonds, the growing Chinese influence, and biopiracy. The latest book in the series is DYING TO LIVE.

Michael has lived in Kenya, Australia and the US, and now lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. Find out more at www.detectivekubu.com, www.facebook.com/MichaelStanleyBooks and Twitter (@detectivekubu).

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