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Paul Mendelson

THE HISTORY OF BLOOD …Between The Covers

AHOBWith a worldwide wave of support, optimism and hopes for a bright future, the African National Congress swept to power in 1994, and post-apartheid South Africa was born, blinking in the light, but healthy and vigorous. Paul Mendelson’s gripping novel of crime and corruption shows that the rainbow dream has not yet turned into a fully grown nightmare, but it reveals a country where racial and social tensions are never far from the surface.

Mendelson introduced readers to Colonel Vaughn de Vries of The Special Crimes Unit in The First Rule Of Survival (2014) and now de Vries returns to investigate the grim world of the international drug trade. The novel is set mostly in Cape Town, where Mendelson lives for part of the year, and it begins with the sad discovery of the body of a young woman in a run-down hotel. Chantal Adam is the adopted daughter of Charles Adam, a rich and influential businessman, but her blood father was Willem Fourie Adam, Charles’s brother, who was assassinated in 1994, after the elections.

Chantal lived the dream as a successful model and advertising poster girl, but a move to America brought only grief, heartbreak, and a bitter separation from her adoptive family. Now she lies dead, wrists slashed with glass, in a shabby hotel room usually used for by-the-hour sexual sexual activities. She is haggard and emaciated, but her degradation is complete when the post mortem reveals that she has ingested a large number of condoms packed with heroin.

We follow de Vries as he picks up the trail from the wretched death of Chantal Adam, to a stable of girls used by ruthless men to ferry drugs to the Far East, and then on to a man whose organised crime CV includes running a game park offering forbidden targets to American trophy hunters, and being at the very centre of political and financial corruption in South Africa and neighbouring states. Reluctantly, de Vries enlists the help of John Marantz, a former British intelligence agent, whose life has been rendered meaningless by the abduction and murder of his wife and daughter.

Like all interesting fictional coppers, de Vries is conflicted. He suffers fools with a bad grace, if at all, and his contempt for incompetence in fellow police officers is entirely colour blind. There aren’t too many of his comrades-in-print who have happy and flourishing marriages, and he is not one of them, although his fierce love for his daughters remains undiminished. He is not a man to back away from a fight, either political or physical, but neither is he a stone cold killer, as a key incident in this book reveals. He is also human enough to make dumb personal decisions which threaten to derail his career.

There are two distinct backdrops to this excellent novel; the first shows a country where the natural landscape can be harsh or almost impossibly beautiful; the second is the socio-political climate, and here Mendelson shows compassion, subtlety, but – above all – honesty. This is not a hatchet job where the white minority watch with sneers on their faces as the country’s new rulers make mistake after mistake, but a thoughtful and perceptive account of the pitfalls and temptations facing those for whom high office is, in some cases, a genuine challenge.

The complexities of the politics make for an intriguing read, but above all this a thoroughly good crime thriller, and I look forward to Vaughn de Vries returning for a new battle with the forces of evil. The History Of Blood is available online and if you want another fine novel set in contemporary South Africa, then try The Monster’s Daughter by Michelle Pretorius

ON MY SHELF

ON MY SHELF is a regular feature looking at recent and upcoming books which  will be of interest to crime fans.

JULY 2016

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The History of Blood by Paul Mendelson
Sadly, the euphoria over Nelson Mandela’s Rainbow Nation has long since faded, and political and social reality has taken its place. The Republic is one of the most dangerous and crime blighted places in the world, and we take a grim journey through that reality, led by the beleaguered Colonel Vaughn de Vries and Don February of the Special Crimes Unit. Corruption is never far from the surface, and the scars of historic misdeeds are still raw and – in some cases – still bleeding. Buy The History Of Blood here.

When The Music’s Over by Peter Robinson
Twenty three books in, and one of CriFi’s most enduring – if not endearing – glum and introspective coppers, Alan Banks, now promoted to the dizzy heights of Detective Superintendent, shows no signs of retiring. His foil and sometime-soulmate Annie Cabbot is also still going strong, and the pair investigate apparently unconnected crimes. Cabbot’s is the brutal death of a teenage girl, apparently tossed from a moving vehicle like a discarded chocolate bar wrapper, while Banks wades into the murky waters of a historic allegation of sexual abuse involving a celebrity. Buy Peter Robinson’s latest novel here.

The Dead House by Harry Bingham
How can feisty, crazy, fearless and utterly adorable Fiona Griffiths still only be a humble Detective Constable? Only her creator, Harry Bingham, knows, but our girl is back for her fifth battle with the forces of evil. Fi suffers from Cotard’s Syndrome, a bizarre condition which is occasionally incapacitating, but also gifts the sufferer with startling insights. The ‘dead house’ of the title is a place where, in medieval times, corpses were laid prior to burial. A very modern murder challenges Fi, however, and her empathy with the dead takes her into places where modern malice and ancient evil combine to terrifying effect. Check out Harry Bingham’s Amazon page for more information about the startling DC Fiona Griffiths.

The Monster’s Daughter by Michelle Pretorius
Back now to South Africa. The root of the story lies not in the modern Republic, with all its contradictions and uncertainties, but in the even darker days at the turn of the twentieth century, when the Boer rebellion against British rule was put down with all the ferocity that a colonial power could muster. One of the least honourable contributions to world history by Britain was the invention of the concentration camp. In one such place, a British doctor conducts horrific experiments on prisoners. A century later it becomes horribly obvious that his work did not die with him. A young constable with the South African police becomes drawn into a case which will take her into a world where the reality is even worse than her nightmares. The Monster’s Daughter is out later this month.

A Black Sail by Rich Zahradnick
Despite the name of the main character, Coleridge Taylor, and the evocative cover, this is not a historical novel. OK. it’s set in the 1970s, but maybe that doesn’t count. Coleridge Taylor is a journalist. He is also an ex-cop, dismissed for an over-inventive approach to evidence. It’s the eve of the 1976 bicentennial, and the citizens of The Big Apple are drawn to the waterfront, where a whole fleet of replica tall ships are assembled to add to the spectacle. In this, the third of the series, Coleridge Taylor gets sucked in to a very modern murder mystery involving bricks of heroin, Chinese gangs and the traditional Mafia goons of New York City. A Black Sail will be out in USA later in the year.

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