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Friday, July 4, 2014

Present Darkness by Malla Nunn

Atria, 352 pages, $16

Apartheid should never have happened, and yet it did. It is Malla Nunn’s duty to remind us of its horrors through her dark and solemn books. Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper and Detective Constable Samuel Shabalala live in the world of South Africa after segregation has been institutionalized. In Present Darkness, it is 1953 and Cooper and Shabalala walk a fine line with their friendship. For all intents and purposes Cooper is white and Shabalala is black, making them separate and unequal under the eyes of the law. But they are friends, brothers under the skin, and there is no doubt they would die for each other.

In Nunn’s fourth book in her series, Cooper and Shabalala must deal with police corruption, a preternaturally cunning police lieutenant, the beating and robbery of a liberal white couple, the arrest of Shabalala’s son for that attack, the kidnapping of a prostitute, and a basketful of lies from practically everyone they meet.

Cooper is trying to find a way to live with his black common-law wife and their baby daughter without tripping over laws that would strip him of his job and toss him in prison. He must balance endangering their well-being by nosing into a criminal enterprise that involves the shantytown where Cooper grew up, shoulder to shoulder with black families. Fix and Fatty Mabela are brother and sister criminal “entrepreneurs” and Cooper’s childhood companions. Cooper has left Sophiatown but Sophiatown apparently still firmly holds a piece of him. Cooper must return there to unwind the tangle of cases in order to free Shabalala’s son.

Nunn presents an exciting crime series, but her stories are richer than normal because of their historical context. Her heroes don’t just battle the criminals; they fight against legislated injustice. How wrong is it, Nunn asks, for honorable men to have to scurry in the shadows?

1 comment:

  1. I am always looking for mystery series that expose me to other cultures, and this one sounds excellent. Thanks for introducing me to this author.