Hard-boiled ex-detective Emmanuel Cooper returns to solve the murder of a young boy in 1950s South Africa.
Nunn teams Cooper with his former partner, the shrewd and stoical Zulu Shabalala, and with the calm but wounded Dr. Zweigman to confront an international cast of bad guys. The villains are primarily Indian and English, but as in A Beautiful Place to Die (2009), Cooper’s ruthless former boss Major van Niekerk calls many of the shots. When the body of ten-year-old Jolly Marks is found in the freight yards of Durban’s harbor, several suspects emerge. Unfortunately, one of them is Cooper, who’s been working undercover on the docks for five months, trying to ferret out police corruption. Later, two more murders occur. Covertly investigating, Cooper finds a suspicious knife, pockets it, then hides it in the flour bin in his kitchen. When some officious policemen discover the knife, he becomes the most likely suspect in all three murders. Van Niekerk gives Cooper 48 hours to get it sorted out and find the real murderer. Within this tight time frame he unearths a plot involving the search for Col. Nicolai Petrov, a Russian informant now wanted in exchange for another spy. Petrov is terminally ill, and his wife is in her ninth month of pregnancy; Cooper tries to protect them from being caught by the henchman of a mysterious British colonel. Along the way, the ex-cop gets involved with alluring femme fatale Lana, van Niekerk’s mistress, and with some Indians involved in Durban’s criminal underworld.
Casual and institutional racism form a fascinating backdrop for the action, giving readers a feel for how apartheid actually looked and felt to those on both sides of the color line.