DARK TRACES by Martin Steyn
Kirkus Star


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A tense and grisly debut novel of suspense from South Africa.

“Yet another Sunday lunch with the family interrupted by blood and maggots” sets the tone perfectly for this thriller set in Bishop Lavis, a town in western South Africa. A bird-watcher finds a decomposing body, and the medical examiner says it's a teenage girl who has been hanged. Murder by hanging is a new crime for Warrant Officers Jan “Mags” Magson and Colin Menck, partners in the Serious Violent Crimes Unit on the Western Cape. They’re two smart cops with distinctly different outlooks on life. Magson: “Sometimes I think weapons and greed are the only reasons we’re at the top of the food chain.” Menck: “Some days you’re the pigeon and some days you’re the statue.” Magson’s near-suicidal sorrow at the recent death of his wife, Emma, further darkens the plot of a mysterious spree targeting teenage girls. Cops speculate that the victims are lured or forced into a car before being violently raped, then hanged or strangled and dumped into a field. Mags and Menck interrogate a suspect who’d exposed himself to a schoolgirl a few years earlier, and they think they may have their man when another suspect claims, “I didn’t murder anyone! It was just sex!” The tension stays high and the narrative and dialogue stay interesting—thank goodness for the upfront glossary that explains such words as klagtebakkie (the vehicles used by uniformed police officers) and oom (uncle, or a term used to respectfully address an older male). Luckily, Menck occasionally lifts the story’s pervading tone. In one interrogation, he warns the suspect of Magson’s foul mood: “You see, my partner here chooses not to use the number one toothpaste as recommended by dentists,” and the resulting sore tooth makes him irritable and impatient.

A dark, intriguing, and satisfying tale with strong characters.

Pub Date: Oct. 10th, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-946395-01-6
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Catalyst Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2017


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