Read of the Week

Dead In The Water

Irna Van Zyl

PenguinRandomHouse

Review: Brian Joss

Detective Storm van der Merwe has been banished in disgrace from Cape Town Central to Gansbaai to work cold cases, after she took part in a demonstration to protest against the shooting of beached whales, which brought the police “into disrepute”.

On the way there a tow truck driven by Spyker Swart crashes into her Beetle, leaving her without a car

Storm’s boss, Brigadier Lewis Witvoet, orders her to keep her head down in Gansbaai.

But the detective is nothing, if not headstrong, and when she is walking the dogs and finds the body of an investigative journalist, Jessica Stander, sans arm on the beach, at Grootbaai, she is not going to ignore it.

Then she learns that another resident of Grootbaai, Ruwane Baadjies, died in mysterious circumstances. And who, like Stander, was found in what residents have dubbed Shark Alley.

The story has several threads: the illegal perlemoen trade; tow truck drivers who set up accidents; the death of a Springbok prop and Shark Boelie Oosthuizen, who was killed when a pick-up ploughed into his car on the N1 near Plattekloof towards Paarl; and shark-diving.

Added to the mix is Storm’s colleague, Detective Andreas Moerdyk, an alcoholic who has a crush on her. Moerdyk is sent to investigate Boelie’s death but he also sticks his nose into Storm’s investigation which has opened a can of worms that puts her life in danger.

Storm, meanwhile, has personal problems to contend with. Her mother, Rowena, is in Cape Town for a heart operation but before she undergoes surgery the two of them have to have a long-awaited conversation which will reveal Rowena’s secret.

Irna Van Zyl has perfectly captured the essence of a small town and what goes on behind closed doors. All her characters are finely drawn: they include Magdaleen and Janneman, the owners of the only “bistro” in town; Benade, the bistro’s resident musician and green activist; the “millionaire” Erwin Jooste; the Cuban pathologist Ramon “Dr J” Juantorena) and the security guard, Shaneen Presens.

Dead In The Water is a page-turner with a twist on every page, red herrings galore and a climax that you least expect.

It’s available in Afrikaans as Moordvis. Storm van der Merwe is the new star in the South African detective firmament and you can expect more thrills from her and her sidekick, Andreas Moerdyk.