What's a Common Reader -- and what is Uncommon Reading?

Virginia Woolf defined a common reader as someone who is not a scholar; not a critic. A common reader "reads for his own pleasure rather than to impart knowledge or correct the opinions of others. Above all, he is guided by an instinct to create for himself, out of whatever odds and ends he can come by, some kind of whole." By that definition, I'm definitely a common reader -- reading an uncommonly large and diverse collection of books.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Mystery Monday: Crackling Suspense in Today's South Africa

I started to pay attention to Soho Press a year or two ago, when I realized they were generating (ahem, publishing) a disproportionate number of my favorite new mystery series, such as the earlier (and better) novels by Qiu Xialong and the gripping series set in the occupied West Bank by journalist Matt Beynon Rees. Not all have been hits -- I'm underwhelmed by Cara Black's books set in Paris, or Rebecca Pawel's potentially intriguing series set in Spain struggling to emerge from the Civil War -- but this series by Jassy Mackenzie definitely is, especially now that I've read Stolen Lives, the second book featuring private investigator Jade de Jong.

Starting with the opening scenes -- a raid on an English brothel that frees a handful of women from South Africa trafficked and sold into sexual slavery -- the suspense never lets up. Nor, amazingly, does Mackenzie drop the ball on character development or lose track of  single narrative thread in what turns out to be a very complex plot. While the raid in the UK warns the reader that this is going to be a novel dealing with some very ugly characters indeed, Jade doesn't initially realize what she is getting involved in when she agrees to serve as a bodyguard to Pamela Jordaan in Johannesburg, after the latter's husband vanishes from their home. But she soon realizes that Jordaan is keeping a lot from her -- and the revelations begin when a guy on a motorbike takes a pot shot at Pamela in the car on their way to locate Pamela's daughter. From then on, the action never lets up -- as Jade's ex boyfriend, police superintendent David Patel is brought in by the British to help with their investigation of the trafficking ring, Jade realizes that the Jordaans may also be involved in the case. The story moves from David and Jade (both of whom must cope with shattering news about family members) to the British police investigators, without ever flagging.

One warning: there is violence in this story, albeit not of the gratuitous kind. Mackenzie makes clear to the reader that crime isn't nice and domestic and tidy: that human trafficking is an ugly and violent business. Some of the characters meet gruesome ends, and while not quite ready to jump on a chair and cheer as if this were an action hero movie, I couldn't help feeling that there was often an element of justice to it all. Anyone who has read the mysteries and thrillers of Val McDermid, for instance, won't find the level of violence disturbing. But it's not for readers who prefer their mysteries on the cozy side.

Ultimately, only one conclusion is possible: that this is a great mystery novel, one that kept me guessing until the final pages, and a "Thumping Good Read" that would make an excellent addition to anyone's summer reading list. I've rated it 4.4 stars: a real page-turner...

1 comment:

  1. ooooh... thanks for putting this book on my radar screen.