A multilayered debut mystery in which the body of an unidentified white man washes up on the rocks of a backwater settlement in post-apartheid South Africa.
Port Victoria, South Africa, isn’t a village as much as it is a catch basin for humanity’s eccentric odds and ends. There, hungry sharks cruise the coastline and venomous snakes patrol the bush: “It was as though the present had arrived without completely displacing the past, and the two were wandering around in a blend.” Everyone in this subtropical purgatory seems to know everyone else’s business. Into this curious social dynamic come Alice Burley, a white South African expatriate bent on uncovering the secrets of her haunted childhood; and Mendi Mkhize, a dissatisfied government official with an intense hatred for the old Afrikaner elite, who’s sent to investigate the possible murder. Mkhize is an especially well-drawn leading man, and he immediately calls to mind several A-list Hollywood stars who could portray him on screen. Although he and Burley are disparate characters with different trajectories, both share common traits as they journey through Port Victoria’s untamed landscape. Each, for instance, demands answers, but is totally unprepared for the revelations encountered. Lee’s narrative is crisp throughout, full of human insight and a sense of place. That said, it might have been more potent without Alice’s prolonged sojourn with a local surfer dude, and with lots more of Mkhize’s special brand of menace. By the time they’re ready to depart Port Victoria, both main characters are convinced that they will never again return. Lee makes clear, however, that Port Victoria will never leave them.
A richly rendered, if sometimes uneven, story simmering with vivid characters and set in an unforgettable locale.