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whispersBy Michael Sears

A varied group of mysteries and thrillers were published in South Africa last year. While several of the authors were featured in AFRICA SCENE, and Joanne Hitchens and I will be catching up with others this year, I thought we’d take a look at some of 2014’s literary highlights—apologies if we’ve missed any!

The South African thriller-publishing year kicked off with Joanne Macgregor’s debut, DARK WHISPERS, a nail-biting psychological drama. When a patient describes an experience of mental torture and sexual mutilation by a gynecologist at the private hospital where she works, psychologist Megan Wright investigates. Determined to find out the truth and stop the abuse, but bound to silence by the ethics of confidentiality, Megan enters the dark mind of a dangerously disturbed man. Joanne gave us more insight into the book in her AFRICA SCENE interview in October.

Next up, DEVIL’S HARVEST by Andrew Brown. After a secret drone strike on a civilian target in South Sudan, RAF air marshal George Bartholomew discovers that a piece of shrapnel traceable back to a British Reaper has been left behind at the scene. He will do anything to get it back—but he’s not the only one. The plot involves the search for the drone, a rare plant, war lords, and an unexpected relationship. It takes place in South Sudan, a country where undeclared war has become a way of life. Brown is one of our best crime writers. He told us more about the book and how he came to write it in the August AFRICA SCENE.

devilsAmanda Coetzee returned with her new Badger thriller, ONE SHOT, a shocking and revealing book set (partly) in South Africa. Coetzee really puts Badger through the mill in this one. She’ll tell us more about why she brought Badger to South Africa and turned his world upside down in her interview with AFRICA SCENE this year. Her first book in the series, Bad Blood, was featured in September 2012.

Chris Karsten completed his trilogy of grueling thrillers with FACE OFF. Abel is a fascinating character and these books are not the ordinary serial killer fare. Mike Nicol interviewed Kartsen about the second book in the series, The Skin Collector, in the August 2013 AFRICA SCENE.

FINDERS WEEPERS is a debut by Penny Lorimer I’m excited to learn more about. I haven’t read this novel yet, but I’ve heard good things about it and will be contacting the author soon. As the plot reads, Broadcast journalist Nix Mniki finds herself, reluctantly, in “frontier territory”—the rural Eastern Cape—after being persuaded by her formidable mother to search for the daughter of an old friend. Boniswa, the missing woman, is the principal of the once-famous Girdwood College, a school almost destroyed by the country’s recent history. Born of Xhosa and German parentage and raised in privileged suburbia, Nix must confront corruption, violence, desperate children, and revelations about her own family and identity as she discovers that Boniswa did not disappear voluntarily.

In 2014, Deon Meyer penned another blockbuster with COBRA. His books just keep getting better, and although Benny Griesel is the protagonist of a series, each novel has a completely different theme, and sucks Benny into a different maelstrom. In COBRA, Griesel must deal with an international banking conspiracy that makes its way to South Africa almost by chance—but then grips it like a vice. Deon told me more about the book last month.

Another highlight of the year was Lauren Beukes’ new novel, BROKEN MONSTERS. Following up on her international best-selling, The Shining Girls, she gives another highly original take on the crazed killer theme. She discussed her writing and the new book with Joanne in the September AFRICA SCENE.

findersA second “weep” last year was WEEPING WATERS by Karin Brynard. Like Deon, Karin writes in Afrikaans, and this is the first of her extremely popular books to be translated to English. What starts off as an apparent farm murder—regrettably frequent in South Africa—rapidly spirals into something more complex. It’s great that Karin’s books are available to a wider audience now. I’m looking forward to reading this one.

BY ALL MEANS, which Kurt Ellis says he started writing in 1998, saw the light of publishing day last June. A gangster with a good heart and the end justifying the means—another book I haven’t read, but plan to in the new year.

Finally, BALTHAZAR’S GIFT by Charlotte Otter. This one is a translation from the German original, which received critical acclaim. Interestingly, three of the nine books published locally in English last year were translations.

And that’s a wrap! Before I go, just a reminder that Joanne and I would be delighted to have your suggestions about African authors (or authors setting their books in Africa) that you’d like to hear from or about.

Until then, happy Africa reading in 2015!

Michael Sears
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