1 October 2010


Macmillan 2008
ISBN 978-1-405-03877-5
397 pages
Borrowed from my library.

From Wikipedia:
Apartheid was a system of legal racial segregation enforced by the National Party government in South Africa between 1948 and 1994, under which the rights of the majority 'non-white' inhabitants of South Africa were curtailed and minority rule by white people was maintained.
New legislation classified inhabitants into racial groups ("black", "white", "coloured", and "Indian"), and residential areas were segregated, sometimes by means of forced removals.

It is against this background that Malla Nunn sets A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE.
It is September 1952. A white man's body has been found in deep country, in the river that separates South Africa from Mozambique. The body floats face down within reach of the river's edge on the South African side. Some kaffir boys found the body, and now it is being guarded by a nineteen year old Afrikaner constable. Three Afrikaner men, built like rugby players, stand a little way off, waiting for the investigating team from Johannesburg to arrive. For the dead man is their father, Captain Willem Pretorius, the local police chief. And the investigating "team" is Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper, sent out solo on the murder of a white police captain.

Cooper had been investigating another murder only an hour away and had been despatched to check the "possible" homicide. At the scene also is the man Pretorius had grown up with, Constable Shabalala, a Zulu. The opening scene gives Cooper a lesson in how the social structure works around here. The Pretorius sons think  their father has been killed by Mozambique smugglers, but Cooper is not so sure.

Finding a doctor who can sign a death certificate leads him to meet "the Jew", Zweigman, who is an elderly  German living with his wife in a shanty town where there are no English or Afrikaners.

Things become even more complex when Cooper's boss in Johannesburg tells him that the Security Branch has decided that the murder may be political, and that they are sending a team to take over the investigation. Cooper will be expected to co-operate.

A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE is a fascinating exploration of relationships in an area where white supremacy is already an acknowledged way of life. However the newly passed racial segregation laws are about more than who rules. Emmanuel Cooper can't be sure that even he is going to get out alive.

This was an impressive debut book, and I'm looking forward to reading the sequel, LET THE DEAD LIE.
If  you'd like to read some opening pages click on the image to the right.

My rating: 5.0

Emmanuel Cooper has recently returned from Europe, from the war, leaving behind his English wife, but not leaving behind his sergeant major, a Scotsman, who gave soldiers advice on how to kill before they were killed, who lives on in his mind. This, his sometimes blurred vision, and the headaches, indicate a man who is still suffering from post traumatic stress. He reminded me of the central character created by Charles Todd, Ian Rutledge, who is constantly reminded of the war (in this case World War One) by the ever present voice of Hamish MacLeod, "Hamish in his head".

Other reviews to check:
  • Petrona: "this book is more than a crime novel, and it is one that will rest in the mind for a while."
  • Reactions to Reading: "yet another book that has everything I look for in my crime fiction"
  • Reviewing the Evidence: "an extraordinarily powerful novel"
A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE won the 2009 Sisters in Crime (Australia) Davitt Award for Best Adult Crime Novel,  and was shortlisted in 2010 for Edgar Award and is also shortlisted for Macavity Award for Best First Novel

About Malla Nunn
Malla Nunn grew up in Swaziland before moving with her parents to Perth in the 1970s. She attended university in WA, and then the US. In New York, she worked on film sets, wrote her first screenplay and met her American husband-to-be, before returning to Australia where she began writing and directing short films and corporate videos. Fade to White, Sweetbreeze and Servant of the Ancestors have won numerous awards and have shown at international film festivals from Zanzibar to New York. Malla and her husband live in Sydney with their two children.

Malla Nunn & Others Talk About The Stories Behind Their Stories

See also the Simon & Schuster site.


Jose Ignacio Escribano said...

Thanks for this review Kerrie. Just remind me it is another one to add into my list. I can't miss it.

Margot Kinberg said...

Kerrie - Thanks for this excellent review. I've been reading such excellent things about this book that I absolutely must read it. Thanks for the reminder!

Kerrie said...

It is an evil scheme to get you to buy Australian books Jose Ignacio!

Kerrie said...

Margot, Michael Robotham gave it a highly recommended too. This is one of those books, that the more I thought about it, the better I thought it was

bermudaonion said...

Boy, does that sound good! I love the setting and bet it's fascinating.

Dorte H said...

I am happy that I have this one on my shelf!

Cathy said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it as much as I did, Kerrie. I received an email this morning from a friend letting me know that she's sending me a copy of Let the Dead Lie. Can't wait!


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