Barbara's Reviews > A Beautiful Place to Die

A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn
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's review
Aug 24, 2012

it was amazing
Read in August, 2012

Malla Nunn

This debut introduces the mainstay characters that make Malla Nunn’s novels so engaging and interesting. The place and the time period of the novel sets the stage: South Africa, 1952. Apartheid is the law of the land, and the revolution for freedom has not yet begun. A black man is a non-person, and a colored man only slightly less restricted. On the heels of WWII, white South Africans is more afraid of Communists and outsiders moving into their country and changing their society, then they are of uprising of their black residents. Afrikaners of Dutch descent are higher than an Englishman in the pecking order of white society.

Detective Emmanuel Cooper is sent to a small town on the border with Mozambique, where a local Afrikaner police captain has been found dead. He works with Shabalala, a half Zulu local constable, a man of quiet dignity and intelligence. The other local policeman, Hansie, is a very young and not very bright white constable. When he arrives at the scene of the murder, the captain’s grown sons are there and looking for trouble. They are the local Afrikaner boss family. They own most of the small town and are a law unto themselves. Big, strong men, their youngest brother is young and spoiled by his mother, but it soon becomes clear to Emmanuel that the boy is more than the weak schoolboy he appears to be.

As Emmanuel and Shabalala, with the clumsy help of Hansie, begin to investigate, the captain’s life begins to show cracks. His sons do everything they can to protect their father’s name, and to protect their mother from hearing of her husband’s misdeeds.

Just as he feels he is making progress, the Security Branch strong men come to the village and threaten Emmanuel and take the case from him. Working with Shabalala and Hansie, Emmanuel manages to stay out of their grasp until he solves the case.

Another strong, secondary character in the series is a Jewish doctor from Germany, who had fled the Nazis with his wife. He has settled in this small village and opened a small sundries shop. The local hospital sister tells Emmanuel to see him when there is trouble and a doctor is needed “outside the system”.

Nunn does an outstanding job of giving the reader a look at a closed society, while involving us in a mystery with twists and turns. This new series is compelling with characters that seem real, magnificent background, and just plain good story telling. My summation is the same as Minette Walters – “I loved it”.

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