THE HARBINGER by Mark Graham


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Strikingly well-written police procedural set amid the boiling crises of South Africa. Graham's murder melodrama moves at a grim pace through densely detailed police lab analyses, autopsies, record searches, all of which are spellbindingly immediate. Counterpointing this is the swifter story of an abandoned gold mine honeycomb that is secretly being revamped as a storage area for an arsenal: the harbinger of an uprising that will change the face of South Africa, In a train station in Port Elizabeth, a white labor-union honcho seemingly is strangled to death in the sleep room for black women workers. Actually, he was murdered with a rare poison, then strung up as if garroted with a nylon cord used mainly by cave explorers. At first suspicion falls on a black worker whose wife was the sleep-room attendant; the dead union official had been having sex with her regularly in the sleep room. But then the wife too is found slain, while her husband is in jail, and with the same unusual nylon cord. When police forensics makes clear that she'd died before the union official, the case against her husband at first grows stronger, then quickly goes up in mist altogether when the dead wife's body also reveals traces of the same rare poison that killed the union man. The suspect clearly would have no knowledge of such an artful poison. Meanwhile, the case has fallen into the laps of both the National Security Branch (apartheid enforcement) and of Chief Homicide Inspector Nigel Mansell. For every step forward that Mansell makes in clearing the suspect, Security twists the evidence to bolster a forced confession. In the midst of this, Mansell--running on caffeine, carbohydrates and brandy--is deserted by his wife and falls for a light-skinned black union official who becomes his silent aide. When slapped with a warrant by Security, he goes into hiding while uncovering the political cat's-cradle behind the murders and the cache of arms in the mountain honeycomb. Richly moody and well done all the way, though the final face-off-between Mansell and a top conspirator lapses into rhetoric.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1988
Publisher: Henry Holt