Black Heart, or Why you should spend your pennies on a book by Mike Nicol
1) It is quite literally impossible at times to say who--the protagonists or the principal villain--is chasing whom. That's because each is chasing the other, and has good reasons for doing so.
2) And that's leaving aside the secondary villains--or are they secondary good guys?
3) The main good guys, a pair of security-company owners named Mace Bishop and Pylon Buso, are very clearly good, yet they have done dreadful things.
4) The principal villain, one of the more memorable in recent crime fiction, is evil beyond all doubt, yet she is given a chilling back story rooted in South Africa's recent past:
"Mace had watched her taken away to the Membesh camp. Nights of rape ahead of her as the big boys had their way. The big boys now MPs, government men, oligarchs. Was hardly a wonder he and Pylon went off to run guns. The camps weren’t a picnic."One could discuss that passage at some length. For now, suffice it to say that Nicol avoids the easy temptation of making her horrible past an easy pop-psychological excuse for her evil present. Oh, and has any villain ever had a better name, with a more resonant first syllable, than Sheemina February?
5) The Hammett-like terseness that bursts into occasional rueful Chandlerian acid, as in this observation about Sheemina February's building:
"a cliff of expensive caves owned by film stars, rich business machers, trust babies, highflying models with too much money too soon."6) The reference to "Government men, all the old strugglistas" who "get fatter by the minute with their deals and schemes." Strugglistas is my word of the week.
7) The humor:
"‘That’s your name? I call you Dancing Rabbit?’"
"‘That’s what I answer to. Also Veronica.'"8) The humor at the tensest moments, as here, when Mace and Pylon confront Dancing Rabbit and her husband who, it turns out, are Native American casino entrepreneurs eager to swing a deal in South Africa:
“‘Maybe you should have told us. Sort of thing puts you in a different category for us … `In our books,’ said Pylon, ‘you were rich and famous coming here for a good time. Just needed the edge taken off the street life. No big deal.’”
“‘Still not,’ said Dancing Rabbit. ‘In our experience people say they’re going to scalp you, they’re generally blustering.’
“‘Not here,’ said Mace. ‘People here say that’s their intention, most often it is exactly.’”9) A comic set piece that does extra duty as local color and entertaining lesson in how vernaculars mix in a multi-ethnic country:
"He rapped his knuckles on the lid. ‘Ja, hell man, this old biddy, this’ – he shook his head – ‘I’d say, hell man, I’d say, ja,’ – he folded his arms – ‘I’d say the way it is with your car, ag man, short and sweet like a beet, the fucking fucker’s fucked, ek se. Finish ’n klaar. Know what I mean. End of story.’"In short, if you like your thrillers drum-head tight, sharply observed, with a keen satirical edge, thoroughly entertaining even as they offer serious commentary on the countries of their setting, you want to read Mike Nicol.
© Peter Rozovsky 2014