Friday, May 23, 2014

Diale Tlholwe, an exciting new (to me) South African crime novelist

Diale Tlholwe reminds me of his late, great countryman James McClure.  Like McClure, South Africa's greatest crime writer, Tlholwe writes with an amused, detached narrative voice that makes his social observations all the sharper.

McClure wrote during South Africa's apartheid era. Tlholwe sets his books amid the hangover after the euphoria of apartheid's overthrow, thus observations such as the following, from his second novel, Counting the Coffins:
“`Oh, Jacky. He used to be a journalist too. Now he is a spokesperson for some high official.'

“`Which one? The official, I mean.'

“`There’s been so many of them. Jacky is always moving around, advocating one cause today and another the next. He is a typical new South African. Right now, I think it’s small-business enterprise. After the mall mess he was in public works. Anyway, the same people are usually involved in all these things in different ways – public, private and everything in between.'”
or this, in which the protagonist, an investigator named Thabang Maje, indulges in high spirits on the job:
“`Evening, ladies and gents of the majority, as we used to say a million dark years ago just before looting and burning down your houses. I’m . . . I’m Lebogang.' For some reason my mind was back at the blazing season of my school days when we would terrify ineffectual people like these whom we suspected were fence-sitters in the liberation struggle.” 
That's funny and sad and scary at the same time, I'd say, enough by itself to make the novel worth reading.  The book so far also reminds me of the best of Northern Ireland crime fiction, in its invocations of ghosts that remain, however, very much alive.

I still have about half the book left to read, but Counting the Coffins bids fair to be my most exciting crime fiction discovery this year. I'll also look forward to reading Tlholwe's Ancient Rites.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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8 Comments:

Anonymous Jessica said...

Sounds intriguing, I may have to give it a go. I also love the cover artwork!

May 23, 2014  
Blogger Mack Lundy said...

I second Peter's praise of Counting the Coffins. I've read both it and Tlholwe's first book, Ancient Rites. Ancient Rites looks at what has been lost, sense of place and community.

Jessica, Ancient Rites has an equally arresting cover in the same style as Counting the Coffins.

May 23, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mack, you're ahead of me on Tlholwe. Do you know why he appears not to have published any more novels the last two years?

A piece on the Crime Web site wistfully says something like, "Maybe there's a chance Maje will return," so I am not the only person who wonders about this.

May 23, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Jessica, here’s that cover, along with more information about Ancient Rites from the publisher’s Web site. And take a look at the link in yesterday's blog post for a guide to more top South African crime writing.

May 23, 2014  
Blogger Mack Lundy said...

No idea what happened to Tlholwe. I'd love to see another Maje book. The Google doesn't show anything and the publisher's bio hasn't changed since I first read it.

May 23, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here's part of what Crime Beat said in annointing Counting the Coffins one of South Africa's top crime novels:

"This is moody, menacing, rollicking stuff, and we might just have found our answer to the likes of Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade. Now, if only we could get Maje to return."

I decided against invoking Chandler in my discussion of the book, because everyone invokes Chandler. But the comparison is less strained for Tlholwe than it is for some crime writers.

May 23, 2014  
Blogger Janet Rudolph said...

Thanks, Peter, and I look forward to reading him. Sounds right up my alley. Love your blog!

May 24, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. That's another author you'll want to keep in mind should you plan either an issue on South African mysteries, or else a follow-up to the African mysteries issue form 2010.

May 24, 2014  

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