The wrecked detectives we love


The wrecked detectives we love

DEBORAH STEINMAIR finds imaginary friends between the pages of books, because reality is brutal.


I READ a new Jo Nesbo and a new Rudie van Rensburg this past week. For readers, every day is Christmas.

I lie in bed at night pondering the fictional detectives who become part of our circle of friends, household names, beloved characters who make contact only once a year at the most. But they inhabit the landscape of our minds. They make our world more hospitable. When we have to live with Bheki's gang, who are thick as thieves with criminals or sleeping on the job, it makes us feel safer to think there must be people like Harry Hole, Nicci de Wee, Bennie Griesel and Kassie Kasselman out there. Detectives who sink their teeth into the case and never let go until the perpetrators are caught.

These police officers are always overworked and struggle to maintain a family life. Often, like Harry Hole, they wrestle with the bottle. It's genetic, but it's also a symptom of excessive empathy, poor choices and a good dose of bad luck. Bennie Griesel is usually sober, although he sometimes backslides spectacularly. Harry measures out his days in shot glasses and tries to function. His eyes are bloodshot, the irises faded from excess, he has scars like a tomcat and a lovely mouth. Women love him, even when his suit is rumpled and he's thrown up on himself.

Captain Kassie Kasselman is the opposite of Harry. He only drinks cream soda. He's not big and strong, and he doesn't have the stomach for blood. He has no sense of style, wearing tracksuit pants and a red windbreaker. But he is alert.

What the two have in common is elegant grey matter. They can quickly sum up a situation, grasp connections and make accurate deductions. They know how to talk their way out of tight spots. They have integrity and their own form of ethics but won't hesitate to bend the rules slightly. Harry Hole bends them to the breaking point, while Kassie's biggest crime is entering dangerous situations alone because there's no time to call for help.

Both have romantic hearts. Rakel, the love of Harry's life, was killed by his friend because Harry slept with the friend's wife while drunk. In this way, Harry was punished and doomed for life. Kassie is engaged to Amalia Keyser, and he is a one-woman man. Rakel's son was involved with drugs in one of the books, and Harry had to put his life on the line to save him.

In Dwelm, Amalia's son Anrich becomes a drug runner for a gang on the Cape Flats. He sells drugs to children in Long Street because he wants to get rich quickly and buy a nice car and house. He carries a revolver and has a safe in his room at Amalia's apartment. She believes he has turned his life around and is acquiring his matric certificate online. She is extremely proud of him. How does Kassie keep him out of the clutches of the gangs and the police, and how does he keep Anrich's moral decline a secret from Amalia?

It's just one storyline in Van Rensburg's latest crime thriller. But as usual in good crime novels, all the dots are connected in the end. Nothing is superfluous.

Brother and sister Dawid and Marinda de Necker run the company their father started, Sand and Cement. Unfortunately, Dawid is a malignant criminal who makes Markus Jooste look like a choirboy. He's been fiddling the books for years, laundering money and operating an illegal smuggling scheme. He supplies drugs to the gangs. He has police officers on his payroll. He extorts his sister and compromises her in a cunning way, making her part of the scheme.

Two former police officers are shot dead while fishing at a dam near Paarl. Kassie and Rooi Els are tasked with the case. Another former police officer seeks therapy to find peace for his soul. He committed monstrous crimes as a member of the Brixton Murder & Robbery Unit, but what really torments him is something that happened recently.

A gang decides to kidnap Dawid de Necker and steal his entire container of drugs from the warehouse.

How do all these storylines come together? You'll have to read to find out. Just wait until the weekend, because you'll find it difficult to put down.

Meanwhile, in Killing Moon, Harry Hole once again decides to drink himself to death. Then an older woman, who also heavily indulges in alcohol, catches his eye in a bar because she resembles how his mother might have looked if she were still alive. She owes a large sum of money to the wrong people, and they kidnap her and Harry. He has to pay the ransom. Therefore, against his better judgement, he accepts a job from a wealthy man who is accused of murder. He works on the same case as his former colleagues, although they work for the prosecutor and he works for the accused, an unsavoury character. As usual, Harry achieves much better results than the police with his unorthodox methods.

Nesbo's books also read themselves: all you have to do is keep turning the pages. It's a race against time and there's a lot at stake, including — as always — Harry's poor, battered body.

Don't tell me you're bored. Read, engage your brain and help our brave detectives solve these heinous crimes, even if it's just by offering moral support.

And it's come to that: I refer to characters in books as if they live and walk among us, just like my grandmother used to talk about the characters in her Springbok Radio stories: “Have you heard what So and So has been up to?"

Because reality is brutal and we all need imaginary playmates.

What, where, and how much?

Dwelm by Rudie van Rensburg is published by Queillerie and costs R272 at Graffiti.

Killing Moon by Jo Nesbo is published by Vintage Publishing and costs R365 at Exclusive Books. 

♦ VWB ♦

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