Previous reviews are at Mack Pitches Up

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Random Violence by Jassy Mackenzie

Soho Crime, 2010, 336 pages. ISBN 978-1-56947-629-1. This is Jassy Mackenzie's first U.S. publication and the first in the Jade de Jong investigations series.
Visit Jassy's Web Site and read an interview with her at Scene of the Crime.

Private investigator Jade de Jong left South Africa immediately after the funeral of her father, the police commissioner in Johannesburg. Something made her leave and something brought her back, ten years later. What those somethings are form a parallel story that helps fill in Jade's background.

When Jade arrives back in Jo'burg from her latest job in the UK, Superintendent David Patel, a friend and secret crush who worked for her father, asks her to assist in the investigation of a woman who was shot and killed outside the gates to her house. As Jade begins collecting details about the dead woman, she finds that there are missing pieces and some that some pieces don't seem to fit, but Jade is good at finding patterns.

Jade de Jong is a welcome addition to the P.I. genre. She's hard-boiled, exercising a moral flexibility when the situation demands it but not so hard-boiled that she is without human feelings. Readers who like a strong sense of location in their crime fiction (and I'm one) won't be disappointed with the setting or the way Mackenzie weaves in post-apartheid social and cultural adjustments as well as South Africa's extraordinarily violent crime problem. Random Violence has an excellent plot with two story lines that are compelling and a pacing that made me keep reading. My only disappointment is that the next book in the series isn't immediately available. This author reinforces my opinion that South Africa produces first-rate crime writers.

I started reading Random Violence just after I finished Antony Altbeker's study of crime in South Africa, A Country at War with Itself: South Africa's Crises of Crime (Discussed in detail by Jameson Maluleke and Nick van der Leek). I was struck by how well Mackenzie captured the problems still facing South Africa sixteen years after the end of apartheid and the start of majority rule. For example, Altbeker discusses how the drive for security by those who can afford it drives wedges between people, between affluent and those living a marginal existence. Jassy makes frequent mention of private armed response companies providing security for walled, fortified, and electrified communities springing up around Johannesburg.

Also, the Valjoen brothers, characters in the story, are patterned after Eugene Terreblanche, the leader of the white supremacist leader of the AWB (Afrikaner Resistence Movement) who was recently murdered touching off a serious political crises. See this article in the TimesOnline.

Random Violence is an excellent crime/PI/thriller that gives an outsider a look into a different culture. If any South Africans happen to read this review I hope you leave comments. I'd love some first-hand perspective.