White South African writer Rose-Innes makes her American debut with a nimble, intriguing novel about a second-generation Cape Town exterminator—er, ethical pest-removal specialist.
As founder/proprietor of Painless Pest Relocations, Katya Grubbs—accompanied by her teenage nephew, Toby—spends her days as a kind of interspecies border-control officer, watching for encroaching animals that stray from "their" territory into the luxury homes and groomed, gated developments of the city. She traps and then offloads a wide variety of unwanted—"unloved and unlovely"—critters: caterpillars, frogs, snakes, roaches, mongooses, and more. Early on in the novel, she's hired to remove a mysterious plague of mud-swarming beetles from Nineveh, a swanky coastal development, reclaimed from wetlands, that is languishing in a state of near completion until the "goggas" can be dispatched. Her boss is a shady but colorful Afrikaans developer named Brand, who informs her that she' s replacing an exterminator with whom he had a falling-out—Katya's own estranged father, Len, who, colorful and shady himself, bears a certain resemblance to her employer. To gauge the extent of the infestation, Katya needs to spend a few days at Nineveh, and her investigations there reveal little by way of animal interlopers, initially—she's told the beetles show up after a rain, and the weather's been dry—but in the meantime she makes some discoveries about the development, which appears to be disappearing fixture by fixture, tile by tile, despite the presence of on-site security; a scavenger economy thrives in the seething-with-life wetlands just beyond the walls. And then, not quite to Katya's surprise, Len—another specimen out of place, it would seem—shows up.
A persuasive, witty exploration of a tough and unconventional young woman—and a consistently lively account of the entanglements of cultural politics, class, and architecture in contemporary South Africa.