Blessed Are the Dead

blessedBlessed Are the Dead
by Malla Nunn (South Africa/Australia)
2012 / 336 pages
read by Humphrey Bower  9h 7m  (A+)
rating:   A /  crime

This is the third book in the Detective Emmanuel Cooper series by Malla Nunn of South Africa and Australia.   Cooper, who is half Afrikaner and half English, has a co-investigator named Detective Constable Samuel Shabala, a Zulu tribesman and also of the local police.  The time frame is the 1950s,  the days of apartheid (instigated in 1949/1950).   Imo,  it’s very credible historical fiction- likely set in the days prior to the author’s birth.

Near the Drakensberg Mountains, north of Lesotho,  live  Zulu or San tribes, Afrikaans and English ex-pats and others who don’t really get along very well.   The Zulu maintain old traditional ways while the Afrikaans have their own old-fashioned ways including strict apartheid.  Meanwhile the English think of themselves as the only truly civilized  group and above all the rest.

Drakensberg Mountains area

Drakensberg Mountains area – above Lesotho

Detective Samuel Shabalala is native and takes care of getting behind the scenes of the Zulu community as well as interpreting various signs and symbols, traditions and customs for Cooper. Cooper deals with the white administration and the non-native locals.

But when the body of Amahle, the beautiful young daughter of a Zulu chief, is found dead right smack between the white-owned farm where she works and her tribe’s compound, where she lives,  it’s a problem for the talents of both men.

Oddly,  there are flowers spread around her and a blanket piled under her head – these are not Zulu things to do.  (?)  There is no known cause or motive.  Various folks, Zulu, English  and Afrikaner,  are making any investigation difficult and there is some kind of power behind the resistance on all sides.   There are plenty of characters, some with odd names,  and lots of  motives for the reader to sort through.

One interesting thing about this novel is the demonstrated complexity of the social structure –  between whites, blacks and mixed race, of course,  but also between the wives of Matabula,  the  English vs the Afrikaans, the fractioned police units, the doctors, the farm vs the hive – etc.  Indians,  mixed race groups and even Jews  – all stereotyped in the South African mind.

I’m not too happy about Cooper’s war background,  flash-backs and discussions with the voice of his dream-time old sergeant major but that’s a minor issue.

Fwiw:   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drakensberg#San_cave_paintings 

1280px-San_Painting,_Ukalamba_Drakensberge_1

Great photos at:
http://decaseconds.com/category/south-africa/zulu-nyala/

Brief bio of Nunn:   http://www.kwls.org/authors/malla-nunn/

Interview with Nunn at:
http://bookpage.com/interviews/16807-malla-nunn#.VVUaD2A-AUs

And!   I love Humphrey Bower’s reading – he’s narrated quite a lot of Australian literature.

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