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BLESSED ARE THE DEAD by Malla Nunn

BLESSED ARE THE DEAD

By Malla Nunn

Pub Date: June 19th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4516-1692-7
Publisher: Emily Bestler/Atria

The murder of a beautiful Zulu housemaid threatens to inflame racial tensions in 1953 South Africa.

Even before preacher Baba Kaleni found her body, garlanded with flowers and pillowed by a tartan blanket, someone had telephoned Col. van Niekirk, of the Durban CID, to alert him to a murder. So the colonel promptly passes on the news to D.S. Emmanuel Cooper, even though it’s 3:45 a.m. and he couldn’t possibly know (or could he?) that Emmanuel is frisking with Lana Rose, the mistress the colonel is about to sacrifice to his impending marriage. This prologue offers a foretaste of the secrets that await Emmanuel and D.C. Samuel Shabalala when they arrive the next day in tiny Roselet. The late Amahle Matebula’s family, headed by a chieftain with five wives, demands the release of her body from the police surgeon’s custody; the Reed family, the Afrikaner owners of Little Flint Farm, where Amahle toiled as a maid, barely seems to notice her absence. So it’s no wonder Constable Desmond Bagley, station commander of the Roselet Police, did nothing when Amahle’s mother reported her missing. Like James McClure, Nunn (Let the Dead Lie, 2010, etc.) sets the warm, intimate professional relationship between his two police officers against the contrasting, and apparently unbridgeable, gaps between Afrikaners and Zulus everywhere they turn in Roselet. It’s especially gratifying to see what Emmanuel does when, on orders from above, he’s pulled off the case and Shabalala isn’t.

Historical hindsight may make readers a bit more self-congratulatory about recognizing the evils of apartheid, but it won’t help them see around the curves Nunn has plotted or rise above her insight into the enduring dilemmas of her separate-and-unequal world.