Me, you, and books
The first book in the Cooper series is called A Beautiful Place to Die. It is set in early 1950s South Africa, just as apartheid has become law. Emmanuel Cooper is a policeman sent out to investigate the murder of another policeman in a rural district. Captain Pretorius was the Big Man on Campus, married to a religious zealot and father to five Afrikaaner sons. He was well-loved by most people in town, but not everyone. It's up to Cooper to find out who would want to kill him and why, and as he digs deeper into the mystery, he finds out many unsavory facts about the Captain and the other townspeople.
What I love about mystery series is not so much the mystery as the characters and the development of those characters. Historical mysteries in particular appeal to me as they are a really great way to immerse yourself in a different period and a different lifestyle. Rural South Africa just after apartheid is a brilliant setting as it gives Nunn the opportunity to speak not just about the complex relationships that exist between all people, but also the ability to add in additional layers about religion and race and politics and gender and how all of those play into power.
Much of this book is about power and how we use it. Captain Pretorius was a police captain, but he was also a very rich, pure-blooded Afrikaaner man. But he also really loved South Africa and Zulu traditions. And he was a man of big appetites. How he balanced all of those personality traits in such a small town is a key theme in this book. How far will a person go to keep up appearances but also get exactly what he wants?
But Pretorius isn't the only man drunk on power. Even Detective Cooper can feel the draw of it as he interviews black and colored women about the case. It's hard not to take advantage of a situation when you know absolutely that the odds are stacked in your favor every single time. And Nunn did a wonderful job of showing how absolute power can corrupt absolutely. If you believe that you are chosen by God and that you are superior and that the law is on your side, then it is quite difficult to stay a good person.
That was one aspect of the book that really appealed to me, but what really drew me into this book were three characters in particular. I think what will develop over the course of this series is an unlikely friendship between three men - Emmanuel Cooper, an English-Afrikaaner detective with PTSD; Detective Shabalala, a black man who grew up with Captain Pretorius and will probably highlight the complicated race relationships that existed in South Africa at the time; and Dr. Zweigman, a German Jewish surgeon who left Germany and now runs a small shop in the middle of nowhere, South Africa.
The possibility of following this trio as they go around 1950s South Africa, solving crimes together while the race laws become tighter and more limiting and make their fragile friendship more and more difficult is just UNREAL, and I cannot wait to see what happens.
I really enjoyed this book about life in 1950s South Africa, and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys mysteries, likes to learn about different parts of the world, or is as fascinated by the interplay of race, gender and power as I am.