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Kgebetli Moele

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘International’ Category

Review: Shutter Man by Richard Montanari

Shutter ManThe Great Crime Thriller will always have a setup crime, with every act relating directly to this crime, and the thrill of crime fiction is the mystery of how it – it, it might be the wit of the investigator, the shrewdness of the perpetrators and the chase – unravel until the perpetrators are caught or the crime is solved.

Richard Montanari sets up the crime scene – the gruesome murder of a family of three and three more subsequent ritual murders with the same MO. Then the author takes a detour; the bombing of a house, the suspicious death of Detective Byne’s childhood friends and the epic look into the Farren crime family, as well as the unsolved murders of eleven-year-old Catriona Daugherty and her “supposed” killer Des Farren. These detours in the end serve no purpose or function to the story as they remain unsolved.

There are very few moments of brilliance in this tale and the story falls face down at the end when answers that were supposed to be an integral part of the story become statements from the characters. What is really a Sotar square? And how does it relate and influence the murders of these witnesses and their face skinning, and their birth certificates? How was the brutality of murdering these witnesses going to elevate a family curse? Because if criminals leave clues, it is always with intent or an unfortunate mishap. Here Montanari sets up the playing field but fails to master it.

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Review: Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis

Fifteen DogsWhat would happen if animals had human like intelligence? That they could feel, be angry and rage, love and laugh, feel inadequate and fight to have – what all humans need – power and respect while struggling to live a perfect lives and die happy.

Author André Alexis drives us into this world by giving human intelligence to a pack of dogs. Fifteen dogs, hence the title, are blessed with human intelligence or rather cursed with it. Blessed, as they can assert their lives and be better dogs. Cursed, as animals are much better suited to living animal lives without human burdens and consequences.

FYI: Human reproduction: we complicate this with the word LOVE and almost all of our female counterparts have found themselves burdened after this magical mystical word has been through their ears. Love brings about human reproduction and we decorate it and call it love but that is no love. It is in a way the creation of poverty.

The allegory that George Orwell presented in Animal Farm: the power relations between the animals taught us about our power relations as people, as nations and as countries. That unforgiving truth that is hard to live with: All animals are equal but some are more equal than others. You love it or you loath it, it speaks universal truth.

The premise is the same for both books but the settings are different: in Fifteen Dogs the dogs are given human intelligence to survive dog life and human relationships to see if they can die happy – I don’t think there is a human soul through all the ages who died happy.

The pack is destroyed by fear and discomfort in their new unknown situation. They are caught between the comfort and traditional habits of mere dogs, who are directly (pets) or indirectly (stray) dependent on humans. They start by defending the comfort they have known and fighting what they have gained. It is by this first step – which is indeed a human phenomenon, fear of change – that Alexis loses the plot and the potential that this novel had.

Fifteen Dogs follows in the footsteps of Animal Farm but loses the track and then fails to rise above it. The dogs start off being ruthless, killing the dogs that claim this change and are willing to live it. The book fails to portray the premise, ‘What would happen if dogs had human intelligence?’, as these fifteen dogs die out and are viewed as ordinary dogs while they can speak and think. Imagine walking opposite a dog and it comforts you, “don’t be scared I will not bite you”. Or maybe it begs for some change, crying hunger. Only once did the book come alive when one of the canines was adopted and the owners discovered that it could talk, there a beautiful moments there that are spoiled by the couple’s reaction.

At the end, the human intelligence serves the dogs no function and purpose because they persist to remain dogs. They survive life like all other dogs and kill each other to maintain a dog’s life. The idea was great, but the writing lacked a soul, feeling and emotions. Imagine entering a house without noticing the warning sign, and suddenly seeing the dog and hearing it welcomes you: “Fear nothing, come in.” This is the story that could have been.

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The Art of Defusing

The Detective's SecretThere are times when an author completely loses the plot and focus of their tale, defusing the genre, and then we have a watered down novel. The fact that the novel is well received by readers, certified by the words: Number One Bestseller, aids the de-purification of the art

Lesley Thomson’s The Detective’s Secrets is such a novel. There is always a problem with starting a series in the middle as some vital information may have been disseminated or implied in the previous instalments. The author does not find necessary to divulge that information again or repeatedly as the readers who are following the series already know. This is not always a loss, as the book might necessitate one to read previous instalments even before finishing the one that they are reading – then the intention or unintentional act of leaving that information out becomes a success.

With this fact in mind, I ploughed through The Detective’s Secret carefully, but there was nothing that made me think of getting the previous instalments or even future instalments. I found an author with a readymade-to-consume market, hungry to take on whatever comes and mindless of the contents.

In The Detective’s Secrets the said detective is deceased and his daughter Stella is trying by all means to walk in his detective shoes with the help of Jack – her train driver friend – while her day job is Twenty First Century Designer housemaid on call.

The detective’s secret is the surfacing of a son, Dale Heffernan, that the wife of the detective had while they were still young. She had to give the child away. With the arrival of Dale the crime story becomes a family saga. The author flies over this family saga with nothing resolved and no payoffs to the main story.

The crime: a man jumped in front of a speeding train. Suicide. His brother doesn’t think that it was a suicide as he believes that his brother would not have committed suicide. The trained police wrote off the death as suicide. The brother then solicits the detective’s daughter to help prove that his brother was murdered. Stella is reluctant to take over the case. She is reluctant to do anything that is concerned with “walking the detective’s shoes”. She is even reluctant to open a letter addressed to the dead man whose supposed murdershe is investigating.

In the end, a cleaner and train driver solve a related 20-year-old cold case, which didn’t in fact look like a cold-blooded murder; a young boy closed the door of a tower, the victim could not come out, there was a heavy storm, and he died.

Lesley Thomson loses the plot telling us that two deaths that occurred in a particular train station – where this particular train doesn’t stop – were actually cold-blooded murders. Nowhere do Stella and Jack prove beyond reasonable doubt how the killer had the power/ability to push the victims in front of the speeding train while he was metres away from them. Murders that trained police officers and CCTV footage wrote off as suicide.

Then while Jack is in a physical confrontation with the killer – a killer with some ability to make people do as he wants – the author shuts us out of the action. When we come back the killer is dead. End of story, triple murder solved. The reader is left to believe from the narrator’s mouth that the suspected perpetrator – a man of high standing and achievements – was capable of all the acts he was accused of without any proof.

Great stories, I believe, are not told but shown, where the reader gets involved emotionally in the whole process. Whether the writer identifies the perpetrator from the beginning or the evidence trail leads us to him. Crime stories are about unravelling to the reader the intricacy of the story, about investigations and proof, the action and danger. With all this circumstantial evidence Jack, the train driver, could be charged with murder. The Detective’s Secrets fails and falls flat on its face.

Some of the latest crime thrillers show authors slowly and successfully moving this genre into soap opera territory, telling the story rather than proving beyond reasonable doubt. In that, when they fail to prove the complexity of their ideas, they can talk about it and get away with it.

It fails the tale. It fails the genre – the thrill and the suspense of crime novel, that moment when the reader is involved – they want to shout at the detective, “you are missing it”. Those moments when the reader feels that the perpetrator is getting away with it then the surprise and relief when they are caught. “Good work”, the reader wants to tell the detective.

In The Detective’s Secret, the complexity of the characters and the intricacy of the author’s ideas are great but the author falls short in unravelling this intricacy and completely fails the story.

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