Joanne Hichens is a writer, editor and journalist. Her new thriller, DIVINE JUSTICE, has just been released in South Africa and will be available on Kindle by the time you read this. DIVINE JUSTICE is her third novel, following OUT TO SCORE (2006), co-authored and published in the USA as CAPE GREED, and STAINED (2009), published in the UK and France. She edited the first anthology of South African crime-fiction short stories, BAD COMPANY (2008) (also now available on Kindle), and THE BED BOOK OF SHORT STORIES (2010), both of which include her own work. She lives in Cape Town.
I asked her to tell us about the new book, her protagonist, and her thoughts about her home city.
Letter from Cape Town
I’ll never forget the thrill when the likes of Deon Meyer, Jassy Mackenzie and Michael Stanley agreed to write for BAD COMPANY, a collection of South African crime-thriller fiction short stories which I compiled and edited in 2008. And then I experienced an even deeper thrill when none other than Lee Child endorsed the book: ‘They told me there were gold mines in South Africa – and look what just came out!’
Plus he wrote in the foreword: ‘talent like this will bring pleasure to our friends and members in America and Europe and Australia…seeing the universal themes through a uniquely African lens.’ On publication, a number of South African authors joined ITW and our place as International Thriller Writers was cemented.
A highlight too, before the collection came out, was dining with David Hewson on his book tour here, not only chatting about the joys of ITW, but reveling in his enthusiasm as he stressed that BAD COMPANY ‘defied all geographical boundaries’.
Here’s the thing. We all know what it’s like to feel fear,to feel threatened, to want to protect ourselves from crime. We live under lock and key, with house alarms, car gear locks, our computers and phones are password protected – each of us is vulnerable to fraud, assault, murder, to violence and rage and hate.
Featuring the inimitable sleuth Rae Valentine, the setting is Cape Town at the toe of the African continent. Voted Top Destination for Tourists by www.tripadviser.com, Rae describes the harbour city, with Table Mountain as spectacular backdrop, as ‘a mix of sophistication and in-your-face Africa, a cross between London and Lagos, New York and Nairobi’. Indeed it’s a mix of first and third-world, of creeds and cultures, where wealth and glamour sit in stark contrast to poverty and struggle, the perfect environment to ferment craziness.
Rae and her partner Vincent Saldana, hot on the trail of stolen diamonds, get caught up in the evil and nasty world of a bunch of white supremacists under the influence of an over-the-top evangelist. The Pastor predicts that ‘the great King of Terror shall come! Fireballs from on High will heat the sea like the sun!’ and dreams of a safe haven for the ‘chosen.’
Hate-crime bastards are among the worst of the baddies as they commit heinous deeds and murder all in the name of their perceived ‘superiority’. No matter what corner of the earth we call home, every one of us is under threat from intolerance. Every country has experienced the consequences – whether religious fanatics bomb the innocent or deranged individuals orchestrate school shootings, hate is a truly dangerous motivator.
More on Rae: she’s a one-legged ex-junkie who’s made good. Not only is she a newly badged PI (with a library of detective reading in her head to back up her one month online PI course!) she’s also a counsellor and motivational speaker. Sassy, sexy and smart, plus ‘mixed-race, an amputee, and female’, she fits every government spec for equal opportunity and sees herself as an asset to any business.
Sure, she wears a prosthesis, but as she fills out her denim jeans ‘with a bum J Lo would approve of’ and carries a Colt Gold Cup, the focus ain’t on her disability.
Fictional cops and PI’s traditionally have all sorts of vulnerabilities – they’re alcoholics, pill poppers, have bi-polar and obsessive compulsive disorders, the list goes on. Interestingly enough, plenty of disabled detectives – including the blind, deaf and wheelchair-bound- feature in crime-thriller fiction. The best known must be Jeffrey Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme, a quadriplegic who can move only one finger! The website librarybooklists.org records a veritable phonebook of disabled sleuths of which Rae Valentine now joins the ranks. The way I see it, we are all ‘damaged’ in some way, and disability is simply an external manifestation of human frailty.
Though we may live worlds apart, though Africa, and South Africa, for many readers is a distant dream, not only is the crime underbelly Rae Valentine and Vince Saldana stumble into in DIVINE JUSTICE familiar, but so too are the intrepid duo’s all too human foibles and flaws.
If Rae’s learned one thing, in her own words, it is that ‘like the tides, like the seasons, the cycle of resentment and violence will repeat itself, then once it has played out, the rainbow – a small miracle – will grace the city.’
Rae of course, brings an element of justice to a skewed world and she and her right-hand man Vince live to fight another day. I look forward to bringing you the next in the series.
Divine Justice is published by Mercury, an imprint of Burnet Media