As we’re focusing on Australian women writers of ethnic diversity during April I thought it worth highlighting a recent review of Malla Nunn’s PRESENT DARKNESS even though I also talked about the book during last month’s roundup. Nunn lives in Australia now but was born in Swaziland and has set her book in 1950’s South Africa where apartheid is taking its grip on the country’s inhabitants. A policeman who ‘passes’ for white is called upon to investigate the murder of a white couple. The student son of his black friend and colleague is identified by the couple’s daughter as a suspect. Joanne at Booklover Book Reviews has provided a quality review in keeping with the novel’s depth and resonance
Malla Nunn’s Present Darkness is almost everything you could asked for in a novel — meaningful context, a complex mystery underlying an action-packed and compelling plot, and strong, memorable characters.
Joanne then gets to the heart of what makes PRESENT DARKNESS a great read – more than ‘just’ a crime novel
No matter how well informed or passionate about the inequities people faced at that time, we can realistically be nothing other than a sympathetic observer unless we had personally experienced living our lives under that regime. Nunn avoids lofty altruism, employing her enviable talents in characterisation to humanise the myriad impacts of the regime on every day lives.
What really struck a chord for me was both Nunn and lead protagonist Cooper’s acknowledgement of the many shades of grey that invariably exist in the real world. Cooper is a fascinating and powerful character, straddling the metaphorical lines of black and white in countless aspects of his life. He is a man of deep conviction and bravery, but one who must accept that the ends justify the means in order to survive and protect friends and family. In my opinion the character device Nunn uses to draw out Cooper’s inner conflict in such situations is a master stroke.
As a fellow audio book devotee I was also pleased to see Joanne comment specifically on this format
I have really connected with Rupert Degas’ narration in the past (The Canterville Ghost) and his performance in this audiobook was more of the same. His differentiation between the many and varied characters – age, ethnicity and attitude – and timing and nuance, made Present Darkness a pleasure to listen to.
Some quick bites
It’s been a bit of a lean time for intriguing crime fiction and true crime reviews but a few gems have shone through since the last roundup in February
- Brona from Brona’s Book’s continues her obsession with Dorothy Porter by reviewing Porter’s final crime novel told in verse, EL DORADO. She didn’t find it quite as absorbing as the previous novel but she still thought it “crisp, clean & evocative”.
- Marcia at Book Muster Down Under took a look at Kylie Kaden’s second novel MISSING YOU saying “Cleverly constructed, captivatingly written and, at times poignant, I found it difficult to put this novel down and read it within a day.”
- I had a couple of disappointments with books that aimed to tackle serious issues but ultimately failed to really deliver. Anne Buist’s MEDEA’S CURSE looks at women who kill children but I found it “…a fairly confusing tale that lost sight of being a thoughtful exploration of an interesting idea” and its central character – a frightening medical professional if she were real – grew preposterously unbelievable. Gabrielle Lord’s standalone novel DISHONOUR tackles the subject of violence in families of ethnic backgrounds in which the treatment of women is at odds with Australia’s accepted norms. I thought the book focused too much on the central protagonist’s alarming number of personal problems which gave “…the sensibility that [it] is not primarily a story about these women and makes the book border on being didactic a few times“.
- Marisa Wikramanayake took at look at Marianne Delacourt’s first Tara Sharp novel SHARP SHOOTER and says “The best thing about this book I find is the unashamed honesty. From the writing style to the characterisation – the book tells it like it is. And the reason you want to continue reading is because well, damn it, you want to know what happens.”
I’m Bernadette Bean. I’ve been reading avidly for as long as I can remember, blathering about the subject since late 2008 at Reactions to Reading, am co-host of Fair Dinkum Crime, a site devoted to promoting and discussing Australian crime fiction, and have twice been a judge for a national crime fiction award.