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A Beautiful Place to Die (Detective Emmanuel Cooper #1)

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  2,294 Ratings  ·  436 Reviews
Award-winning screenwriter Malla Nunn delivers a stunning and darkly romantic crime novel set in 1950s apartheid South Africa, featuring Detective Emmanuel Cooper -- a man caught up in a time and place where racial tensions and the raw hunger for power make life very dangerous indeed.In a morally complex tale rich with authenticity, Nunn takes readers to Jacob's Rest, a ti ...more
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published January 6th 2009 by Atria (first published 2008)
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zendegy Great is a subjective judgement. I think To Kill a Mockinbird is a great book, of the classic, long-term sense. I think most of Arnaldur Indridason's…moreGreat is a subjective judgement. I think To Kill a Mockinbird is a great book, of the classic, long-term sense. I think most of Arnaldur Indridason's books are great, in a less profound way.
I think this book is really good. The writing is very good, if not really great. I love that it immerses me in the culture of another time and place, even if that means it makes me look at hard realities. I like the way the main character has to manage his PTSD, keep his secrets and navigate a fairly hostile setting to solve a mystery that a lot of people don't want him to solve. I want to see him face future adventures. There are twists and turns on top of and within twists and turns. And, by the end, I cared about some of the characters more than I realized along the way.
So, is it great? I think one might argue that it is. For me, it is pretty close and more than worth the time and money spent on it. (less)
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Community Reviews

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Feb 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those that like their mysteries dark, complex and fascinating
Recommended to Jaidee by: a good friend that has read thousands of murder mysteries

4.5 "the house is in disarray" stars.

2016 Honorable Mention

Ms. Nunn has written a detective debut that is riveting, intense, complex and compelling.

I was about to start Les Miserables but decided I wanted something shorter and my murder mystery fanatic buddy sent this my way.

Well, I did not do a stitch of housework this weekend as all I wanted to do is read this book.

The book takes place in 1950's South Africa where apartheid is about to begin in full swing and a Dutch Police Chief is murdere
This is a stunningly good debut novel. The writing is very assured and the characters complex and well developed. Set in the South Africa of 1952, with new apartheid rules introduced to segregate black from white, Detective Emmanuel Cooper is sent to investigate the murder of an Afrikaner police captain in a small town on the border with Mozambique. What he discovers is a complicated story of power, race and sex. However he is hampered in his investigations by the appearance of the sinister Secu ...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Malla Nunn writes with such a sure and steady hand that it's hard to believe this is a first novel. She really knows how to string you along with the mystery, keeping you reading as the secret lives of the characters are slowly revealed.

The mystery itself is excellent, but the intimate look at rural apartheid in South Africa is equally as interesting, if not more so. The story takes place in 1952, shortly after the National Party has enacted very strict new segregation laws. It's against the la
Apr 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a brilliant book! My first Malla Nunn, and what a beginning!

Detective Emmanuel Cooper found himself in Jacob’s Rest, a tiny town situated on the border of South Africa and Mozambique. He’d been sent there to investigate a suspected homicide, but his superior was convinced it was a hoax, so only spared Emmanuel to check it out. But what he found was an Afrikaner police captain who had been murdered, and his only help in the investigation were an 18 year old white boy, who had recently donned
Book Him Danno
Sep 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012
If you love police procedurals get on this series right now! The author is only three books in and they are absolutely fantastic.

I love a great mystery, especially one that can educate me on a part of history I know nothing about beyond the basics. The hero of the books is English police detective Emmanuel Cooper, trying to balance the tensions of learning the truth to solve the case, and the racial policies of 1950’s apartheid South Africa. The white police captain has been found murdered in
Excellent debut novel by Mala Nunn, takes place in 1952 south Africa as the new apartheid laws are being encoded and enforced. Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper, a WWII veteran, is sent to a small town to investigate the murder of the local police captain. what follows is a tale of complex racial relationships, family pride and power, negotiating the new laws while trying to solve a murder, and dealing with other forces of government who may not care who is really guilty.

Well written, with an i
Lewis Weinstein
An excellent read, combining an exciting detective story with well-told descriptions of South African locales and life before Mandela. It is infuriating to read of the official intolerance and persecution of coloreds and blacks by despicable, hateful whites. This was the first in a series.

My wife and I had the good fortune to meet Malla a couple of years ago at a Key West Literary Seminar. We heard her speak and shared a meal with her. She is a delightful person.
Jean Poulos
Aug 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a new author for me and a new setting for a story. The book is set in 1952 in South Africa. Our protagonist is Detective Sgt. Emmanuel Cooper, an Englishman. Cooper has been sent out of the Johannesburg office to investigate a murder in Jacob’s Rest, a small village of “inbred Afrikaner farmers.” A body of a man has been found floating in the river. It turns out that the victim is Captain Willem Pretorius, the head of the local police. Cooper arrives alone without back up unaware the vic ...more
Jan 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery-suspense
I'm sort of in two minds about this book. I liked the style of writing and Emmanuel Cooper, the protagonist and detective in this story. The story itself was a little less exciting, and, at times, downright confusing. There was a lot of talk of sex and at times it felt very graphic and unpleasant, as well as a rather unnecessary amount of violence and gore. I know this story was meant to give the reader a glimpse of South Africa in the 50s, and maybe the author painted an accurate picture, I sup ...more
First Sentence: Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper switched off the engine and looked out through the dirty windscreen.

Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper is sent from Johannesburg to Jacob's Rest after a call comes in reporting a possible murder. What he finds is the body of the town’s Afrikaner police captain, William Pretorius, and a confrontation with his volatile family. Members of the powerful Security Branch also arrive and push Cooper out, leaving his to investigate a peeping tom case uns
May 23, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Very nice beginning to a series, though still a bit rough in places. There is plenty of room to grow with characters like Nunn has created, and much physical beauty in the landscape. One can just see the heat and smell the air. The cariacatures created to people the Security Forces are much too clownish to give a deep sense of evil, but perhaps that is the tone Nunn wished to establish. After all, real evil is off-putting in the extreme. It may be good enough to sketch it without giving it a rea ...more
Richard Kunzmann
Mar 08, 2009 rated it liked it
A Beautiful Place to Die – Malla Nunn

Turn back the clock to 1952, South Africa. The National Party is at the height of its power and, to paraphrase the author, not a year goes past without the government introducing some new heinous law that can be broken by virtue of a person’s skin colour.
The body of Captain Willem Pretorius is found floating in a river bordering on Mozambique, and Detective Emmanuel Cooper is sent from Johannesburg to investigate the killing. At first smugglers are
Mar 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
This superior thriller written by the gifted Malla Nunn is the first in a series featuring Detective Emmanuel Cooper who plies his trade in the bleakness of Apartheid era South Africa. Navigating through racial tensions so poisonously thick he can almost taste them and fighting against a government that sees a communist behind every corner he's also hiding some secrets of his own that could be his undoing.

As the story begins Cooper has been called to the backwater town of Jacob's Rest on the bor
Mar 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
I picked this book by chance while looking through my local book store. The synopsis looked interesting and I hadn't read many mysteries set in Africa. I'm so glad I took a chance on it as I enjoyed the story immensely, right from the first few paragraphs. The story is set during apartheid and the plot revolves around the shooting death of an Afrikaner police captain in a small village. An English police detective is sent form Johannesburg to work the crime. He suddenly finds himself in the mids ...more
Jan 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Wallander fans
A Beautiful Place to Die is a cracker of a novel. In the book we see 1950s South Africa through the eyes of Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper, sent to investigate the death of an Afrikaner police captain in the small town of Jacob’s Rest near the border with Mozambique.

Emmanuel reminds me of Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander, polite, neither unkind nor easily intimidated, resigned to his lot of long days and headaches, and wearily facing down human cruelty in all its petty, pathetic and monstrou
I grew up like so many children of the 80s and 90s knowing about apartheid. I knew that in South Africa black and white people were separated, and black people were denied things, and rights, and opportunities that white people had. I also remember it ending, and Nelson Mandela becoming President, lots of happy people and dancing.

So I've always had the knowledge of apartheid. But I don't think I have ever really had an understanding of apartheid. I mean, it's pretty straightforward, right? Whit
James Thane
May 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
This outstanding debut novel got a well-deserved nomination for an Edgar award for best novel of the year (2010). Nunn creates a vivid portrait of South Africa in 1952, and sets into that world a memorable cast of characters.

The main protagonist, Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper, is sent to a small town to investigate the murder of the local police captain who is also the head of a prominent local family. Cooper soon finds himself up against the captain's family and the national security polic
MarciaB - Book Muster Down Under
The Blurb
“In her “stellar” (Publishers Weekly) debut, Nunn takes readers to Jacob’s Rest, a tiny town on the border between South Africa and Mozambique. It is 1952, and new apartheid laws have recently gone into effect. When an Afrikaner police officer is murdered, the powerful police Security Branch, dedicated to flushing out black communist radicals, pre-empts Detective Emmanuel Cooper’s investigation. But Cooper isn’t interested in political expediency and has never been one for making friend
Sep 12, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lisa by: Marilyn Brady
I am indebted to Marilyn Brady for her recommendation to read Malla Nunn’s A Beautiful Place to Die. Not being interested in crime fiction, I most certainly would have missed reading it if not for Marilyn’s enticing review, and that would have been a pity because A Beautiful Place to Die is much more than genre fiction. It reminded me of the best of Graham Greene in the way that the novel explores how context and culture impact on crime and justice, and how survival in an intransigently corrupt ...more
Oct 02, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: south-african
This is, on the surface, a murder mystery. But it is set in a small town in South Africa, on the boarder with Mozambique, in 1952. The historical timing of the setting of the story immediately changes this novel from a mere murder mystery to a political comment. And I think it meets both challenges it sets itself very well.

Detective Emmanuel Cooper is sent to investigate what is thought to be a hoax call in the small town of Jacob’s Rest. What he actually lands up investigating is the murder of
Mar 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
The first in the Detective Emmanuel Cooper Mysteries, A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE is set in 1950's apartheid South Africa. Cooper is sent to investigate the murder of the local Afrikaner Police Captain --the father of the town's powerful Pretiorus family. He is aided by the town's only black Zulu police officer and a Jewish doctor transplant from WW2. Cooper is having to work secretly and carefully because of the politically powerful Security Branch, which is determined to ring a confession from a ...more
Feb 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Katy by: Amazon Vine
Shelves: vine-book
I read this book in September of 2008. I received it from the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review.

My synopsis: A Beautiful Place to Die is, when broken down to its core, a murder mystery - Sgt. Detective Emmanual Cooper is called to the small town of Jacobs Rest in Southwest Africa on what is believed to be a hoax call, only to discover the body of a white man - the police captain, no less - floating in the river. Left to cope on his own, being driven out of the case by men from
Apr 29, 2012 rated it liked it
A well written mystery that moves along building tension but ultimately fails from the 'big finish' syndrome, where an author not content to settle for a satisfying ending decides instead to build a grand cinematic finale.

It's kinda like; our hero, unarmed and tied up, beaten and badly injured, rapidly losing blood, inside a locked room, opposed by fiendishly cleaver sadomasochistic villains, so now, only the intervention of the most improbable of circumstances will allow our hero to somehow eme
Aug 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Malla Nunn does deal with some terrible aspects of South African history and culture - terrible when viewed from an Australian perspective - but she never bashes you over the head with any moralising, which would have been so tempting. She lets characters in the story destroy themselves and their culture through their actions - her writing is good crime stuff but in the tradition of the best writers she reflects on social issues and gives insights to those of us who have not experienced them.
GP Field
Jan 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I am an (Afrikaans - Pommy - Italian) Aussie immigrant from SA with strong links to the area where this book is set. I'm old enough to have lived as a child under apartheid and so this book really spoke to me. The story is good, the characters convincing and the setting evocative. Strongly recommended.
Apr 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
Not only was this book a good read from the standpoint of its genre, mystery, it also explores the race issue in South Africa. I learned a great deal about the laws there, the harshness of apartheid, and the sadness of it all in such a beautiful setting.
Sep 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An English detective is in to investigate a local crime in a South African village. Wonderfully drawn characters and an interesting dive into Apartheid South Africa. I enjoyed the mystery and the complexities of that culture. Unfortunately a reviewer revealed a late breaking twist I would have preferred to have been a surprise, but I enjoyed the book nonethless and look forward to reading more.
Jan 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
This was my favorite out of the random 5 books I picked up at the library the last time I was there. An intriguingly complex murder mystery set in South Africa in the 1950's, I felt this novel gave me the most insight into another culture, country, and history than any of the other books so far in my Books From Around the World challenge. There was never a moment I got bored or felt the story to be in a lull period. I also enjoyed the writing style of Malla Nunn. Sophisticated yet smoothly paced ...more
De (hoofd)personen uit Een mooie plek om te sterven kwamen voor mij niet echt tot leven. De goede(n) te goed en de slechterik(ken) te clownesk slecht. Allemaal net een beetje 'te' en vooral een beetje te ongeloofwaardig, te houterig. Het is jammer, want op zich is het verhaal dat verteld wordt, in die 'setting' als basis wel heel intrigerend. Ik had graag wat meer inzicht gehad in de verhouding tussen Willem Pretorius en Shabalala, want dat lijkt toch de spil van het verhaal. Omdat Willem Pretor ...more
Paul Pessolano
Jan 30, 2011 rated it liked it
This mystery takes place in Jacobs Rest in South Africa. It is a story that encompasses both the morality and apartheid laws that were prevalent in South Africa during the 1950's.

Detective Emmanuel Cooper, an Englishman, is called out to investigate the murder of Captain Pretorius. Pretorius is the head of an Afrikaner family who relies on apartheid to maintain their position in the community. Pretorius's murder leads Cooper on an investigation that has him at odds not only with the Pretorius fa
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Malla Nunn grew up in Swaziland before moving with her parents to Perth in the 1970s. She attended university in WA and then in the US. In New York, she worked on film sets, wrote her first screenplay and met her American husband to be, before returning to Australia, where she began writing and directing short films and corporate videos. Fade to White, Sweetbreeze and Servant of the Ancestors have ...more
More about Malla Nunn...

Other Books in the Series

Detective Emmanuel Cooper (4 books)
  • Let The Dead Lie (Detective Emmanuel Cooper, #2)
  • Blessed Are the Dead  (Detective Emmanuel Cooper #3)
  • Present Darkness (Detective Emmanuel Cooper, #4)