If you haven't read A Beautiful Place to Die, Malla Nunn's first book in her series set in South Africa, don't read this review.
I loved A Beautiful Place to Die. It introduced white police detective Emmanuel Cooper. Let the Dead Lie gives us the next great chapter in Cooper's roller coaster of a life. At the end of A Beautiful Place, Cooper had given up everything he had accomplished in order to stand by his principles. He had also sacrificed what other people had, people whom he had come to respect, including a black police constable, Shabalala, and a Jewish refugee doctor, Zweigman.
The time is the early 1950s, soon after apartheid has become the law. At the start of Let the Dead Lie, Cooper has moved to Durban from Johannesburg. He works in the shipyards as a manual laborer, having been stripped of his badge and his designation as "white," a serious change in circumstance in an extremely stratified, color-coded world in which anything other than white means something less than human.
Cooper accidentally stumbles across the body of a young white boy, a street hustler from the poor side of town. Then Cooper's landlady and her maid are found murdered in a similar fashion. Cooper is accused of the murders. Only the intercession of his mentor and protector, van Niekerk, saves him from immediate arrest. Van Niekerk has also moved to Durban and, although Cooper is no longer a police officer, hires Cooper to work as an independent investigator on the side.
The catch is this: Cooper must find the real murderer within 48 hours or he will be jailed and surely executed. Of course, there is more than meets the eye. When is the murder of three people not about the murder of three people? This is the question that propels the rest of the book, as Cooper struggles to figure out what the real issues are.
A shadow is cast over whether van Niekerk is really protecting Cooper or whether Cooper is merely a pawn in a larger game. Lana, a young woman to whom Cooper is attracted, turns out to be van Niekerk's girlfriend, complicating the nature of all the relationships. Nunn also gives us a glimpse of the Indian community and its place in the hierarchy. And so the story goes; every stone Cooper turns over only displays more stones.
I loved the complexity of the story, with Cooper as alternately pawn and provocateur. Shabalala and Dr. Zweigman are brought back in a surprising way to help Cooper (and to personally make me happy). This is an outstanding series and gives a nuanced look at the various avenues racial prejudice can travel down.