11 December 2010

Review: LET THE DEAD LIE, Malla Nunn

Pan Macmillan Australia 2010
ISBN 978-1-4050-3920-8
390 pages
Source: my local library

Publisher's blurb:

In Let the Dead Lie, Cooper is a changed man. Forced to resign from his position of Detective Sergeant and re-classified as mixed race, he winds up powerless and alone in the tough coastal city of Durban, mixing labouring with a bit of surveillance work for his old boss, Major van Niekerk.
Patrolling the freight yards one night, Cooper stumbles upon the body of a young white boy and, the detective in him can not, or will not, walk away. When two more bodies – this time black women – are discovered at his boarding house, he unwittingly becomes the prime suspect in a triple murder case.
At van Niekerk's behest, Cooper's given 48 hours to clear his name and – unofficially – solve the three murders. And so, temporarily back to being a European Detective Sergeant, he launches headlong into Durban's seedy underworld, a viper's nest of prostitution, drug running and violence run by a colourful cast of characters including wannabe Indian gangsters; a mysterious figure who drives a white De Soto convertible; a Zion Gospel preacher, and the exquisite yet streetwise Lana, who also happens to be van Niekerk's mistress...

My take
LET THE DEAD LIE takes place in Durban, South Africa, in May 1953, 8 months after the action of Malla Nunn's debut crime novel A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE which I reviewed earlier this year. Events moved on after the conclusion of the action covered in that novel. Apartheid has become deeper entrenched in Souther Africa, and just 6 months earlier Emmanuel Cooper lost his job in the police force because he upset the Security forces. He now works for his former boss in an undercover role.

Among the characters in LET THE DEAD LIE, and important to understanding the plot are Russians who were close to Josef Stalin, by this time dead. The writing style of LET THE DEAD LIE has a modern feel about it, and I kept forgetting that the action was taking place in 1953. The plot is many stranded and complex. Adding to the complexity are details from Cooper's past, some going back to his childhood, and some from his experiences in Paris in 1945 at the end of the war.

I was glad to meet up again with Zweigman, the German doctor, and Shabalala, the Zulu police constable from A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE. I commented in my review of  A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE  about the sergeant major who offers Cooper advice in times of stress, particularly when he has a migraine coming on. He plays with Cooper's head in LET THE DEAD LIE too.

It would have been remarkable if Australian author Malla Nunn had been able to achieve the same level of writing in LET THE DEAD LIE as she did in A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE. However, I do think this second novel has a level of complexity that the first didn't, and is therefore a more difficult read, and I struggled at times to know what was going on.

My rating: 4.5

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LET THE DEAD LIE was a nomination for the 2010 CWA Ellis Peters Historical Award.

1 comment:

Margot Kinberg said...

Kerrie - An excellent review; thanks. I think those follow-up efforts can be very difficult when the debut novel is excellent. You've given me much to think about...

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