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Present Darkness

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  • Posted December 30, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    The fourth entry in the series featuring South African detective

    The fourth entry in the series featuring South African detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper brings vividly to life the rigid apartheid system in the country in 1953. Although those laws were abolished over twenty years ago, the author places the reader squarely into that reality, the dichotomy made very clear.

    Emmanuel has obtained a short-term transfer from the coastal city of Durban to Jo’burg. His first assignment has him paired with Lieutenant Walter Ramos, fresh out of undercover work, in what proves to be a very testy relationship. The case involves an upscale white couple who have been savagely beaten and left for dead in their home, their Mercedes auto stolen. The couple’s young daughter identifies one of the culprits as a young man who is the son of Cooper’s best friend, a man to whom he owes his life ago, but Cooper is certain she is lying. When the boy has no alibi for the night in question, proving his innocence is a formidable task. Joined in his investigation is the boy’s father, Zulu Detective Samuel Shabalala, and their trusted friend, Dr. Daniel Zweigman, a German who had survived the war in Buchenwald but not before losing all three of his children. Cooper himself had been a combat soldier during the war, and was raised in a slum “populated for the most part by black Africans, [it] also contained a smattering of Jews, Indians and mixed race couples intent on breeding brown-skinned children. Sophiatown defied the racial segregation laws.” The three make for an imposing team.

    The laws of the time made interracial relationships illegal, and all blacks were legally required to carry a passbook on them at all times, which must contain the bearer’s name, place of origin and photograph. Cooper finds himself “a lying European detective sergeant with a mixed-race woman and daughter stashed away from public view,” who broke the law every day. “He was, in reality, already across the line that divided the dirty cops from the clean ones,” but a better cop than most, and won’t leave the case unsolved, whatever barriers, be they his superiors or corrupt cops, even if they might be one and the same. Wonderfully-plotted and –written, suspense-filled to the very end, this was another terrific book in the series, and is highly recommended.

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