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Present Darkness, by Malla Nunn.

December 26, 2013

Present Darkness, by Malla Nunn.  Atria/Emily Bestler Books (2014), Edition: Original, Kindle Edition, 352 pages.  To published June 2014.




In the latest of her gripping mystery series, the South African/Australian author brings her detective into Johannesburg and focuses more closely on problems being caused by the introduction of apartheid.

Present Darkness is the fourth mystery that Malla Nunn has written featuring Sargent Detective Emanuel Cooper and his unlikely friends.   This time Cooper is temporarily working with the police in Johannesburg in order to be with his lover, Davida, and their new-born daughter.   Doing so requires him carefully guard his own identity and the existence of his “girls.”  According to apartheid legislation, inter-racial sex or marriage is a crime.  Cooper is not as white as he appears or that his job on the police force requires.  His relationship with Davida could land them all in jail.  When called out on a murder case, Cooper finds himself working under a police officer who seems determined to execute an innocent young man.  Cooper must discover the real culprit without blowing his own cover.  In the process, he must face some dark spots in his own past.

The suspense began as soon as the book opens and holds until the end.  Gradually the disparate plots came together.  I sometimes felt that Nunn was providing us with too many neat clues, but the book’s ending offered additional surprises.  Davida seemed less real than Nunn’s other characters, a problem that I hope Nunn can correct in future books in this series.  And yes, I do hope the series continues.

The tension in Present Danger is not only about murder and risks to Cooper and those he loves. Nunn also presents the tension between the strict laws demanding total separation of the races and the reality of life for those whose lives were spent crossing the color line.  I read this book shortly after Mandala’s death and the intense coverage of his life.   Reading Nunn’s book, I was constantly aware that the South Africa that Nunn describes is the one in which Mandala became an activist.  Characters in this book could have been among his followers.

 I strongly recommend this book to all who enjoy good mysteries and to all who are interested in South Africa under apartheid.

For more about Nunn and her writing, see my reviews of her other books.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. aartichapati permalink
    December 30, 2013 9:57 am

    I just finished A Beautiful Place to Die in one day based on your recommendation of this series. It was very good! I am going to the library today to get the next two in the series as well – thanks so much for bringing these to my attention!


  1. Recommended historical fiction, memoirs, and mysteries by people of color. | Me, you, and books

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