Three local crime writers earn their stripes

Review: David Bristow

Circle with Three Corners, by AnB Love (Europe Publishers)

Undercover, by Alan Haller (Meteoric Publishers)

Triad, by Monty Roodt (Meteoric Publishers)

Three who-dunnits landed in my postbox recently. I am not that big on crime novels, but here were these three, each by a local writer and all published outside of the conventional system – which was what initially caught my writer-editor-publisher attention. Also, that I happen to know each author variously.

Respectively, this is their second, third and fourth book in a series, and all three happen to be surprisingly good. However, knowing the writers did not prevent me from lambasting two of the earlier works in previous reviews.

Some of the problems with either self-publishing, or going the pay-to-play route, is that your work is not given the attention and quality that a conventional house will lavish on your darling.

First up is the mysterious AnB Love’s Circle With Three Corners (Europe Publishers).

Emily, who is obsessed with her mother’s insoluble murder, meets game rancher Daniel de Randt in London, follows him back to his game ranch in the Lowveld and all hell breaks loose.

She finds herself entangled in a big-game poaching intrigue. Going back to London all cloak-and-dagger, she stumbles into a nest of crooked politicians, “skin” clubs and the sex slave trade.

Refreshingly, the author is a woman who brings a very personal point of view to a very male milieu. She does seem to have an uncanny – and titillating – insight into the London skin-club business.

For this, as well her break-out Imprinted Curse (which I have not read), she went the “vanity” or pay-to-play publishing route. Basically, you put down around R30,000 to get your manuscript copy edited (no quality input), printed and put on Amazon.

In some cases you are obliged to buy a few hundred copies. So you are down to the tune of some R50 000 before you’ve had a sale. And I know from long and hard experience, the selling is when the really hard work begins.

In the case of Circle – which I was asked to vet – the original manuscript was exceptionally well polished and that shows. But the cover is a derivative AI-looking image which is a hallmark of this method.

Next up is Undercover by Alan Haller (Meteoric Publishers)

This is the fourth in the Sopwith Jones series of crime adventures. The first two were issued by the Martin Macauley pay-to-play system, and it showed – in the worst way. With the next two (including Undercover) Haller went through Meteoric, a garagista publishing operation based in Bathurst in the Eastern Cape.

I’m guessing that it is partly through hard practice, but also due to a more caring publishing relationship, number four sees the author really coming of age as a crime writer.

It’s a crooked tale about the cocaine trade in East London and thereabouts, a part of the country I happen to know and love, and one the author clearly knows as well. In this one you absorb the sense of place, heading out on dirt tracks along the Wild Coast to smoke out the gang kingpin, to the seedy streets of this faded old colonial outpost the locals call Slummies.

It also features a motorbike gang, something the author clearly knows stuff about (along with a love of airplanes) as he takes us down the highways and byways of Slummies, to Somerset East and Kologha on the back of a Harley. It is said best writing comes from what and where you know, and it shows here in heaps.

Lastly Triad by Monty Roodt (Meteoric Publishers)

The cover tells us this is No 3 in the Bathurst Chronicles featuring full-time Rhodes academic and part-time crime solver Bernie Bernard, his office being the pub at The Pig and Whistle in Bathurst, where he lives.

For the record, Roodt is pretty much Meteoric, having launched it to publish his own books but also some others under contract (we were together in journalism school yonks ago).

That did not prevent me giving his first crime novel (Dead Man’s Land) a pummeling when asked to assess it. One of the issues in self-publishing is that expenses are high. Therefore one tends to call in favours from friends and family to help edit, proofread, design and the like, and it usually shows.

But third time round and Triad is a tour de force in the genre. (The second in the series, The Shining Path is also a blockbuster.) The basic premise is that local academic and part-time sleuth Bernie’s idyllic life is threatened when he comes upon the murder of a neighbour at his beloved beach cottage at Cannon Rocks.

This puts him in the cross hairs of an abalone and rhino-horn poaching syndicate that is linked to a Chinese Triad.

This also puts him in, as they say in Boet-en-Swaar country, diep innie kak. There is hardly any let-up in this one and we are, metaphorically, holding our breaths on every page, as the story races from The Pig and Bernie’s invaded home in Bathurst, to a secret Gqeberha abalone warehouse, back to Cannon Rocks and finally a private game farm that is mired in dirty business.

As in Undercover, the sense of place here is intimate and palpable. You feel Bernie is the kind of oke you’d like to buy a dop when next you stop over at The Pig – arguably the oldest watering hole in South Africa, but you can debate that with the locals.

All three novels can be found in some bookstores, Takealot and Amazon.

  • David Bristow is the founder of Southern Right Publishers, a writer and author, and former editor of Getaway magazine.

 

 

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