11 October 2013

Review: SILENT VALLEY, Malla Nunn

  • Published by Pan Macmillan Australia 2012
  • Alternative title BLESSED ARE THE DEAD
  • ISBN 978-7426-1088-7
  • 311 pages
  • #3 in the Emmanuel Cooper series
  • source: review copy from publisher
Synopsis (publisher)

A remote town. A girl of rare and exquisite beauty. A murder that silences a whole community.
The body of a seventeen-year-old girl has been found covered in wildflowers on a hillside in the Drakensberg Mountains, near Durban. She is the daughter of a Zulu chief, destined to fetch a high bride price. Was Amahle as innocent as her family claims, or is her murder a sign that she lived a secret life?

Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper is sent to investigate. He must enter the guarded worlds of a traditional Zulu clan and a white farming community to gather up the clues Amahle left behind and bring her murderer to justice. But the silence in the valley is deafening, and it seems that everyone - from the uncooperative local police officer, to the white farm boy who seems obsessed with the dead girl - has something to hide.

With no cause of death and no motive, Cooper's investigation is blocked at each turn. Can he tough it out, or will the small-town politics that stir up his feelings about the past be more than he can bear?
In this page-turning tale of murder and mystery, Nunn entangles us in a rich and complex web of witchcraft, tribalism, taboo relationships... and plain old-fashioned greed.

My Take

This novel is set in South Africa in October 1953. It is a world still divided by apartheid, blacks are always treated as "kaffirs", and white supremacy is assumed.

With Emmanuel Cooper comes his Zulu constable Shabalala. Apartheid means he can't stay in the same hotels as Cooper, or dine at the same tables, but he can get the "real" story from the servants, and he understands local Zulu customs.

SILENT VALLEY is a very atmospheric novel. Malla Nunn is able to transport 21st century readers to a very different culture, and help us to see the crime with very different eyes.

Life is not easy for Emmanuel Cooper. He is descended from Boers and is still not accepted in police circles dominated by whites even though he has the patronage of Colonel van Niekerk who is also an Afrikaaner. van Niekerk will take the credit for Cooper's successes, but will quickly disown him when he fails.

If you've never read any of this series before I would suggest you start at the beginning, so you get the full story (although of course you can read SILENT VALLEY as a stand alone). But there are characters who were created in the first and second novels who are important in the third and so you will understand more if you read them in order. They are available for Kindle.

My rating: 4.9

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About the author

Malla Nunn grew up in Swaziland before moving with her parents to Perth in the 1970s. She attended uni in WA, and then the US. In New York, she worked on film sets, wrote her first screenplay before returning to Australia where she began writing and directing short films and corporate videos, three of which have won numerous awards and have been shown at international film festivals. Her debut novel A Beautiful Place to Die was published to international acclaim and won the 2009 Sisters in Crime Davitt Award for Best Adult Crime Novel by an Australian female author. Malla and her husband live in Sydney with their two children.

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