Sunday, February 24, 2013

Murder of Norman Ware by Rosamund Kendal

Advocate Norman Ware has been murdered in the men's room by the pool in the exclusive San Le Mer eco-estate near Durban, South Africa. The '...murder was the culmination of a series of seemingly unrelated, purely random events.'

Rosamund Kendal builds her story on the lives and actions of 20 people who contributed to Norman Ware's murder—21, if you include Norman himself since he played a part in his own demise. 21 character studies! How can the author pull that off without the story bogging down? In Kendal's case, very well, indeed. The stories-within-a-story are sometimes humorous, poignant in one case, and deliciously cynical when examining politicians, corrupt businessmen, and wealthy suburban dwellers. You'll find some anthropology, sociology, politics, and history worked in. Since at the heart this is a murder, you also get some police procedural and decidedly non-CSI forensic science.

As a reader, I couldn't wait to find out how each person's story fit into the overall scheme. I wasn't disappointed by any piece to the puzzle which is no mean feat when you are juggling this many mini-narratives. After I finished the book and found out how Norman Ware came to be dead, I went back and mapped out the connections between the characters and the murder and marveled at how well the author pulled everything together. I wish I could give some examples but there is no way to do so without spoiling part of the story.

I don't think I've ever read a crime story structured like this one and found it an irresistible, fun read. I think non-South African lovers of a good mystery (such as myself) will enjoy it as well and perhaps learn a bit.

I learned about this book from a brief blurb on Books Live announcing the launch party and found it available for download from It was a happy whim on my part that I gave into impulse and purchased it. How much do I like this book? When it became available on Kindle I purchased a second copy so I would show up as a an Amazon Verified Purchase when I posted my review.

The Murder of Norman Ware is available for the Kindle and in print at Amazon and Adobe DRM epub and print from Kalahari.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Exhibit A by Sarah Lotz

Rape. An ugly word. A heinous act. Is justice possible if the rapist is someone whose job it is to provide protection, a police officer? Sarah Lotz's first legal drama explores this question.

George Allen is a Cape Town lawyer. He can't afford a pro bono case but when a woman he met in a bar (and whom he'd like to know better) asks him to help her sister who says she was raped in a police cell by a policeman, he agrees to investigate. George heads off to Barryville, a small town in the Klein Karoo. Backing him up is Patrick McLennan, known to the entire legal community (and his wife) as the Poison Dwarf, 'one of the most feared advocates in Cape Town' who makes up for his short stature by being a 'total and utter bastard'. In the backseat is Exhibit A, a scruffy dog Patrick claims is a witness to a crime. The many irregularities they find resolve George and Patrick to pursue the case all the way to the courtroom.

Aside: The South African legal system is modeled after the British. George is an attorney. He meets with clients and handles their legal needs like contracts, divorces, etc. If the case goes to court, the attorney briefs an advocate who is an expert in arguing cases in front of a judge.

Exhibit A is based on an actual event and dramatizes the serious problem of rape in South Africa. The country is reported to lead the world in rape cases and a 2010 study reveals that a quarter of the males in South Africa have admitted to committing a rape. And those are just the known cases. Searching South African news also shows that rape by police officers is disturbingly common. Some readers might prefer a little more distance between their fiction and reality but I think the author's decision to solidly anchor the story in a national crises makes it a stronger.

Lotz has a deft touch creating her characters who are among my favorites in crime fiction. She also finds a way to include dark, ironic, sarcastic humour to offset a grim topic.  Patrick is often the focus in humorous situations being short, Scottish, and constantly eating, but his excellence as an advocate is never questioned. Likewise, George, a little down at the heels, practice eking along, and whose love life is a shambles after breaking up with fellow attorney, Val (aka The Witch), has wry observations about himself but still comes across as a lawyer I would engage. Val is George's ex domestic and law partner. She doesn't get as much page time but when she does, it is a treat. She is the target of some of Patrick's best caustic comments. If the author asked me what I wold like to see next in this series, I would ask for a story from before Val and George broke up.

In addition to a good story and characters, the author gives you a good sense of place. You know you are in South Africa. I enjoyed the way she described Barryville in the Klein (Little) Karoo. She lets you feel that you are in one of those 'tiny South African towns that stuck in a time warp and is dripping with small-town prejudice and incipient racist values'. If you enjoy books set in a different country that gives you a feeling for the location then I predict you will enjoy Exhibit A.

Sarah has a second book featuring these characters, Tooth and Nailed. Both are available in Kindle editions here: Exhibit A, Tooth and Nailed. Buy both and maybe she will be encouraged to write a third.