Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Review of Killer Country by Mike Nicol (2010, Old Street)

Mace Bishop and Pylon Buso have a shady past as arms dealers. Now they run a security agency to protect rich South Africans and tourists visiting the country. They also keep an eye out for potential lucrative deals they can launder some of their ill-gotten gains through and look to have found it with a luxury property development. The only problem is that Obed Chocho, one of the new breed of corrupt South African politicians who has his fingers in all kinds of pies, also has designs on the scheme. From his temporary prison cell Chocho runs his empire, comfortable in the knowledge that he’ll soon be free thanks to the efforts of Sheemina February, a ruthless, scheming lawyer who sees him as a handing stepping stone to other things. February, Bishop and Buso have a turbulent history and Chocho will stop at nothing to make sure he gains control of the development. Soon Chocho’s wife is dead and there is a trail of bodies as a convoluted dance between the principal characters unfolds.

Mike Nicols writes in a confident, assured style, telling the story of Killer Country from multiple perspectives, tracing the thoughts and actions of all the principal characters. The characterisation is solid, with the dozen or so principal actors all multi-layered and complex, each flawed in some way and yet not simply cast as a ‘goodie’ or ‘baddie’. Indeed, there are no ‘good guys’ as such, all involved in deceit, corruption and violence as an everyday part of their lives and for whom morality is a fluid, grey soup. The writing strong and each scene is well structured and penned. Indeed, each scene almost operates as nice flash fiction pieces. Where the novel struggled a little was in the linking of these scenes into a larger whole. Because the story is told from so many perspectives, it sometimes seems a little bitty and disjointed, disrupting the flow. That said, the story drags the reader along. Moreover it evokes a very strong sense of place and also provides a fascinating insight into the complex social relations of the new South Africa. Overall, an enjoyable, complex, and sometimes unsettling novel that twists and turns to the last page.

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