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By Michael Sears

Jassy Mackenzie burst onto the South African thriller scene with her debut novel RANDOM VIOLENCE (2010), introducing Jade de Jong, and reflecting the violent tension of Johannesburg that hadn’t been a focus of current South African thriller fiction before her book.  Jade was back in STOLEN LIVES (2011), and this month sees the release of her new book THE FALLEN.  Tess Gerritsen described it as “A white-knuckle thriller with an utterly chilling finale and twists you’ll never anticipate. I raced through this book and wanted more!”

Jassy was born in Rhodesia (as all ex-Zimbabweans still prefer to call it), 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. I asked Jassy to chat about the novel and the intriguing Jade.

THE FALLEN is an action-packed thriller that starts quietly at a scuba resort on the gorgeous St Lucia estuary in Kwa-Zulu Natal.  Jade de Jong is actually trying to have a holiday, but then her scuba instructor is stabbed to death.  Jade and her partner, David Patel, find themselves right in the middle of a murder case which rapidly turns on them.  Each is faced with saving the other’s life.  Is there a future for this partnership?

I can honestly say that I don’t know where they will end up long-term. With each book the relationship between Jade and David becomes more complicated and seemingly more difficult to resolve. However the truth is that they need each other on an emotional as well as a professional level. Jade is extremely unpopular with the police, thanks to her well-earned reputation as a lawless renegade, and David is the one who smoothes her path and persuades the other detectives to work with her on cases. And since David has landed himself back in his hellishly incompatible marriage, his connection with Jade is something that helps to keep him sane.

Jade de Jong is really put through her paces in THE FALLEN, both physical and emotional.  At one point you said you didn’t intend to make her the main protagonist of a series, yet she’s developed into such a rich character.  Why were you doubtful and what decided you to continue with her?

My doubts were the same as those of any first time novelist who doesn’t know whether their work will ever see the light of day. I actually didn’t continue with her – I wrote a standalone thriller, My Brother’s Keeper – as my second book. Then when the first Jade de Jong book was accepted and the publishers wanted a sequel, I picked up the story where I had left off and was delighted to discover how much there was to write about.

Jade’s background is an intriguing mystery in its own right.  Her mother and father both died in unusual ways and Jade’s own past is murky.  In this book she discovers more about her mother’s death, but it remains a mystery.  Do you know the answers to her family background and mean to reveal them a bit at a time, or does it develop – a bit like Jade herself – on the run?

I know most of the answers which will be revealed book by book when the story allows. However there may well end up being some surprises ahead for me as well.

Jade is really good at what she does, and seems to seek out dangerous and violent situations rather than avoid them.  In some ways she reminds me of Lisbeth Salander.  In this book,you comment that: ‘Guns felt like an extension of her own body; shooting was almost as instinctive as breathing.’  Does that about sum it up?

Jade has had a very unusual, difficult childhood. She grew up with no mother, and with a police commissioner father – a job that didn’t make him or his daughter very popular in the rough neighbourhood where they were based, and which required him to travel frequently. As a result, through necessity, Jade learned her survival skills, her competence with weapons and her streetwise smartness.

The book combines a can’t-put-down thriller with a subtle mystery.  Did you plan that from the start or did it develop from two plot ideas as you wrote the book?

I intended to have the two threads running through the plot. Part of the fun of reading a thriller is trying to second-guess the writer, so as a writer I try to make sure that even if a reader deduces what will happen in one thread of the story, there will still be surprises waiting in another.

At just two points in the book you take us into the murderer’s mind.  What did you want us to learn from those scenes?

I wrote these scenes in the second person as a way of taking the reader directly into the disturbed mind of the killer and making the reader feel complicit in the crime. I wanted these excerpts to be memorable, because each scene provides a clue to the killer’s identity.

A quick one on the title.  The book is called WORST CASE in South Africa.  What persuaded you (or your publisher, Soho) to change it for the US market?

There was another novel with the same title being launched in the US at the same time as Worst Case. My original title choice had actually been The Fallen, with Worst Case an alternative. I love both the titles so I’m thrilled that I’ve now had the chance to have them used in different markets.

Will you give us a few clues about the plot and setting of your next thriller – PALE HORSES?

Sonet Meintjies, a base jumper, falls to her death while attempting to parachute off a 65-storey Sandton skyscraper. Her jumping partner insists that this was no accident and hires Jade to investigate. Jade soon discovers that Sonet worked for a charity that helped impoverished rural communities to become self-supporting farming units. Sonet’s ex-husband, though, has nothing good to say about Sonet or the work she has done. Jade travels out to the Siyabonga community farm in Limpopo, hoping to prove him wrong, but discovers the settlement is not just abandoned but has been razed to the ground. The search for the truth about what happened to this community, and to Sonet herself, will lead Jade on a tortuous path that leads from the wilderness of the Karoo desert to the corrupt heart of high-rise Sandton, where she will uncover a deadly secret.

Michael Sears
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