Africa Scene: Peter Church

Nothing as it Seems in
Dark and Racy new Thriller

By Michael Sears

Cape Town author Peter Church’s debut Dark Video was released in 2008 and he was acclaimed as the best new mystery writer in a long while. His writing has been called “dark and racy,” and that sums it up pretty well. His new book CRACKERJACK, released this month in South Africa and the US, is a page turner in the same mold.

Daniel Le Fleur is a reformed hacker and very successful day trader. Against his better judgement, he’s sucked into the search for a missing businessman, who has disappeared taking his company’s money with him, by an attractive executive of the company, Carla.

What seems like an easy assignment leads to a fight for their lives. Was the man murdered and his body thrown into the sea, was he kidnapped, or has he fled to South America with the shareholders’ money?

All is not as it seems. In fact, nothing is as it seems.

With a background in IT and a successful career in the industry, Church brings his knowledge to bear in his thrillers. He has quite a different take on Cape Town.

The focus of Cape Town in your thrillers is rather different from most other local authors. You conceive Cape Town as a high tech hub—the world of bitcoin, hackers, and global day traders. What attracted you to that as a context for your books?

Yes, there is more to Cape Town than gangsterism and murder.  I sometimes describe Cape Town as “a perfect schizophrenic location: modern-city infrastructure and steeped in foreign money, but loaded with glorious scenery and compromised Third World potential.”

I think the international audience is aware of Cape Town’s travel attraction, as well as the chasm separating the living conditions of rich and poor, but it’s probably not well known that Cape Town is a high tech hub with over 35,000 people employed in this sector, and has possibly the largest public fiber-optic network in Africa. Both Microsoft and Amazon have a strong technology and development presence in Cape Town.  The cheaper cost of living and lower salaries makes it an ideal place for overseas companies to recruit and base their technology services.

Knysna, where the protagonists hide out from the killers.

Your descriptions of the technology involved is quite detailed and completely believable. How did you research the world and tools of the hackers? (Presumably not by shutting down the big five banks as Daniel once did.)

Besides writing, programming is my great passion. Developing instructions in a coded language for a machine has always fascinated me. I wrote programs for small businesses as a young adult and maintain an interest in the trends. I still do some IT consultancy which keeps me reasonably up to date, although Daniel Le Fleur is in a vastly different league and I had to do considerable research (and imagination) to keep up with him.

Daniel Le Fleur is a loner with trust and relationship issues. He is also razor sharp with computer code. So far he sounds like a classic computer nerd. But he’s not at all. Hiking, gym, he even tried his hand at cage fighting. What did you feel was important in developing his character?

I wanted to debunk the popular stereotype of a computer nerd. Daniel Le Fleur is a smart guy with a reclusive lifestyle. And he certainly knows his way around the internet. But he is no sloppy, hunched-shoulder, night-time hacker. In order to lay the groundwork for Daniel’s relentless approach to finding out what happened to the missing businessman, it was important to introduce and highlight his capabilities, which include his outdoor activities and his fight-not-flight approach to danger.

CRACKERJACK portrays Cape Town as a high tech IT hub.

In a strange way, I found Daniel and his homeless (and really only) friend Aqualung to be reflections of one another. Is that a fair observation? Was it deliberate?

It’s an interesting observation and I hadn’t thought of this, but perhaps you are right. Their lifestyles are such a contrast, yet they share a self-imposed aloneness and isolation from society. Aqualung is able to express what Daniel can’t, and also provides insights into Daniel’s true feelings for Carla. Certainly their loyalty to one another is a reflection of their symbiotic relationship.

Fallon is a great character—vicious and psychopathic, yet sympathetic also. Do you think that it’s important for the reader to be able at some level to relate to the really bad characters in order to make them truly frightening?

I think it is important to be completely true to a character and not to sanitize their behavior in order to please anyone.

That said, we need to understand something of Fallon’s background in order to appreciate the choices she makes. And when we dig into the past of evil characters, we often discover human elements that engender a sense of empathy with them.

Peter Church

The story involves international finance, corporate corruption, and greed. Carla is caught in the center. Is her role to make the issues personal—to her and hence to Daniel?

The perspectives in CRACKERJACK are either Daniel or Fallon so Carla’s role remains a bit of a mystery throughout.

Of course, Daniel is greatly intrigued by her, attracted to her, but never 100 percent sure he can trust her completely.

CRACKERJACK leaves open a possible sequel. Is that your plan? Either way, can you give us some hints about your next book?

I have a plan for a sequel but it won’t be the next one. I have written 35,000 words for a story set in Mauritius where I did a lot of IT work during the early 2000s. It will be the first time I have expanded my writing to a background outside South Africa, which is a challenge I’m enjoying. But I think Daniel Le Fleur’s insistent voice will ensure he returns to settle the score.

 

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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