In an annual tradition that is now, uh, 2 years old, I buy a stack of books from the wonderful people at the Book Lounge in Cape Town. Then I mail them to myself and pretend I have a secret admirer with incredible taste.
Last year, I got a list of recommendations from Louis Greenberg, a man that knows his literature, and they were fantastic.
This year, I turned my Sauronic gaze upon the booksellers and asked them for a few recommendations. They'd already figured out my taste for genre fiction, so they ran my request through their special propriety independent bookstore recommendation algorithm ('Being Good at Their Job' - patent pending) and came up with a few nifty suggestions for my order.
As most of these aren't out in the UK, I've included plot summaries. If you're interested in any of them, a few are available as ebooks, but I'd definitely suggest contacting the nice people at the Book Lounge (the shipping's also less than you might expect!):
Andrew Brown's Coldsleep Lullaby - Stellenbosch, the present... The body of a young woman is found drifting in a river, and Detective Eberard Februarie is called in to investigate the case. A man struggling with his own demons, Eberard discovers secrets that lead him to an underworld of sexual hedonism, to the rotten core of this old university town. Stellenbosch, seventeenth century... Martin van der Keesel’s skill as a viticulturist is matched only by his cruelty towards the slaves who work under him. When he takes an interest in the Boorman family, and their young daughter Sanna, events are set in motion that will ripple through the early colonial society.
Andrew Brown's Inyenzi - From the moment he sees the beautiful Selena in the seminary grounds, the gates of Melchior’s world are thrown open to love and pain. A Hutu priest, Melchior’s love for the Tutsi woman is forbidden by his church, and stands in opposition to the ethnic hatred that will tear Rwanda apart in the 1994 genocide. In the eyes of the Hutu extremists, such as his childhood friend Victor, she is nothing but a cockroach - an inyenzi - that must be crushed. Heartbreaking, riveting and powerful, Inyenzi captures the innocence of first love, the beauty of Rwanda and the horror of the genocide in a stirring narrative that will be remembered long after the final page has been read.
Andrew Brown's Devil's Harvest - After a secret drone strike on a civilian target in South Sudan, RAF air marshal George Bartholomew discovers that a piece of shrapnel traceable back to a British Reaper has been left behind at the scene. He will do anything to get it back, but he is not the only one. Dissatisfied with his life and ousted from the marital bed, Associate Professor Gabriel Cockburn, an ambitious botanist at Bristol University, sets out to South Sudan in pursuit of a rare plant that is crucial to his research. Once there, he finds himself caught up in the travails of a young Sudanese woman, Alek, who agrees to guide him through dangerous territory to find the plant. But Alek has an agenda of her own. As events move beyond their control, the lives of these characters are thrown together, with explosive results.
Andrew Brown's Refuge - When a criminal lawyer meets a beautiful Nigerian immigrant, his life starts to spiral out of control. Disillusioned with his marriage and the path his life has taken, Richard finds respite in Abayomi’s exotic and sensual world. But, as his involvement in Cape Town’s refugee community deepens, he is drawn into a murky underworld of deception, brutality and corruption. Not even his professional dealings with a notorious Russian ganglord have prepared him for the dangers that await. Provocative, shocking and unflinchingly honest, Refuge explores the plight of refugees in South Africa, the entanglements of the criminal justice system and the pervasiveness of organised crime.
(I possibly got a little excited about Andrew Brown, but I really liked Solace, the police procedural that I got in last year's bundle.)
Rachel Zadok's Sister-Sister. In childhood Thuli and Sindi are inseparable, pinkie-linked by a magic no one else can understand. Then a strange man comes knocking, bringing news from a hometown they didn’t know existed. His arrival sets into motion events that will lead them into the darkest places, on a search for salvation where the all-too-familiar and the extraordinary merge, blurring the boundaries between dream and reality. (This looks gorgeous.)
Mike Nicol's Of Cops & Robbers. PI Fish Pescado is surfing. To Fish this is paradise. Except, he has no work, and a diminishing bank balance. Until a young surfer paddles up: ‘Hey, Fish, there’s a pretty chick looking for you.’ The pretty chick is Vicki Kahn, poker addict by night, lawyer by day. She’s bright, sharp, lovely. The best woman he’s ever had. And she’s got a job for him: find the murderous bastard who wiped out a bystander at an illegal drag race. Thing is the drag racer has connections high up. Really high up, right to the police commissioner...
Morad Zaffon's The Cure. Dr. Susan Conner, a beautiful but traumatized, drug-dependent widow, goes to work for a global pharmaceutical company dispensing a cure for a lethal virus. At first patients get better, but soon they begin vanishing or dying, and Susan suddenly finds her own life on the line. Believing her salvation might lie with Dr. Vincent Bach, the young scientist who developed the cure, she is desperate to find him; but she is on the run as a fugitive from the police and the FBI and is also being hunted by assassins hired by the drug corporation.
Louis Greenberg's Dark Windows. Dark Windows is set in an alternative-present Johannesburg. A wave of New-Age belief has radically altered the country’s political landscape, but not everyone buys into the miracle. Gaia Peace, the party which swept to power ten years ago on the back of a miracle cure for crime and a revolutionary social welfare programme, is still firmly ensconced, but the cracks are showing.
Helena S. Paige's A Girl Walks into a Bar and A Girl Walks into a Wedding. No plot summary necessary, I don't think. If you don't know about these two books already, it is definitely worth checking them out. Ingenious idea and spectacular execution. These got snaffled up by people at my office as soon I opened the box. Fortunately I could tell by the giggling and bright red ears exactly where they were at any given time.
Michael Cope and Ken Barris' Sunderland. Unhappily married Cape Town academic Art Berger is offered what appears to be a professional lifeline: to reconstitute the final papers of the great South African writer Charles de Villiers into book-form. He is uncomfortable about the role of ghost-writer, but the project becomes literary detective-work he cannot give up. Introduce De Villiers' beautiful daughter Taryn, and Art is ensnared. Sunderland alternates between sections, mostly in journal form, chronicling Art's struggle to make sense of De Villiers' fragmented and disordered text, and sections - scenes, notes, outlines - from that very work (also entitled 'Sunderland').
Songeziwe Mahlangu's Penumbra. Mangaliso Zolo is a hapless recent graduate, still living in the southern suburbs of Cape Town near the university. Manga has an office job at a large insurance company, but he is anonymous and overlooked in this vast bureaucracy. Penumbra charts Manga’s daily struggles with mental illness and the twin pull, from his many friends and acquaintances, between a reckless drug-fuelled lifestyle and charismatic Christianity. The novel brings an alternative experience of Cape Town to life, one far removed from both the gloss of tourism brochures and the familiar poverty of the Cape Flats. Mahlangu’s voice is unlike anything South African literature has yet seen and this debut novel dissects young, urban slackers in South Africa with startling precision.
Charlie Human's Apocalypse Now Now. Hell yes, I already have this. But as amazing (and Kitschies-nominated) the UK cover art, I think the South African cover is even better.
Richard De Nooy's The Unsaid. Newshound J.R. Deo has spent his life pursuing tragedy to the darkest corners of the globe, reporting on places like the Killing Fields and the Middle East. He has not emerged unscathed from this quest: he has a history of violent outbursts, and following a savage attack on fellow journalists in a bar, Deo’s mental state and criminal accountability for the attack are assessed at the Institute for Forensic Observation in the Netherlands. Here, he goes from observer to observed. The calm in his cell is initially ideal for taking stock of horrors past and present. But gradually, sinister figures take control of his pen and begin dictating their confessions through his writing. Meanwhile, his fellow inmates at the Institute also become increasingly restless. The violent, paranoid men he is among begin to wonder what exactly Deo is reporting on, and more importantly, to whom.
(I had already ordered the Dutch version for the Joey Hi-Fi cover. Now I can actually read it!)
Plus three anthologies:
Bloody Satisfied, edited by Joanne Hichens. The results of the 'short.sharp.stories' competition. Looks fantastic.
Feast, Famine and Potluck, edited by Karen Jennings. Last year's Short Story Day Africa anthology. (Very kindly signed by the SSDA team!)
Ravensmoot, edited by Marius du Plessis. An anthology of speculative fiction from Fox & Raven publishing.
Meanwhile, on the scouring of the eBay front:
I also picked up a copy of Marjorie Bowen's Kecksies (an Arkham House collection) and yet another John D. MacDonald, this time the (surprisingly ugly) Robert Hale edition of Dress Her in Indigo.
JDM collecting in a nutshell: for years JDM was a paperback-first author, generally from Dell or Gold Medal. The first hardcover editions were actually British, from Hale. They are shockingly rare, astoundingly expensive and, as noted, eye-gougingly ugly. All the more tragic given the quality of the American paperbacks (Robert McGinnis covers, for the most part). Still, occasionally a de-jacketed or ex-library (like this one) Hale hardcover comes on the market for a reasonable price, so I'll grab it for the collection. If you held me at gunpoint and forced me to answer which was my favourite Travis McGee novel, I'd say... well, first, 'seriously? You've pulled a gun on me and that's what you want?!' and second, 'AAAHCRAPSORRYDON'TSHOOTFINEFINEDress Her in IndigoPLEASEDON'TKILLME'.
All in all, a fun few days.