Malla Nunn is the author of the Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper novels set in 1950s South Africa. A Beautiful Place to Die, Let the Dead Lie and Blessed Are the Dead have, between them, received two Edgar Award nominations, a RUSA Award for Best Mystery Novel and a Davitt Award for best crime novel by an Australian author. Blessed Are the Dead, a 2013 Publishers’ Weekly Top Ten Summer Crime Read, was shortlisted for an Anthony Award and a Ned Kelly Award. Present Darkness, the fourth and final book in the series, was published to international acclaim in 2014. Born in Swaziland, Malla lives and works in Sydney.
Number of Pagesapprox 288 pages
Set in the corrupt, unforgiving world of apartheid South Africa, the sensational new novel in the Detective Emmanuel Cooper series follows Cooper as he faces a test of loyalty and friendship.
Six days before Christmas, Cooper sits at his desk at Johannesburg’s Marshall Square station, ready for his holiday in Mozambique. A call comes in: a respectable, white couple has been beaten and left for dead in their bedroom. The couple’s teenage daughter identifies the attacker as Aaron Shabalala – the youngest son of Zulu Detective Constable Samuel Shabalala – Cooper’s best friend and a man to whom he owes his life.
The Detective Branch isn’t interested in evidence that might contradict their star witness’s story – especially so close to the holidays. Determined to ensure justice for Aaron, Cooper, Shabalala and their trusted friend Dr Daniel Zweigman hunt down the truth. Their investigation uncovers a violent world of Sophiatown gangs, thieves and corrupt police detectives who will do anything to keep their dark world intact . . .
Praise for Malla Nunn
‘Pitch-perfect … What makes Cooper such an interesting (and excellent) detective is his ability to straddle the divide that separates class, race and cultures. But it’s a perilous balancing act. Nunn’s achievement is to keep us caring about the consequences if Cooper loses his footing. Present Darkness manages the tension beautifully.’ – Sue Turnbull, The Sydney Morning Herald
‘Nunn’s descriptions of the impoverished township where the suspects live are particularly moving, but the true toll of apartheid is conveyed effectively throughout. Superlative.’ – Publishers Weekly, starred review
‘Malla Nunn’s books have it all: fast-paced, intricate story lines; an exotic setting in a dangerous era; a deeply flawed hero; and an Oscar-worthy cast of supporting characters.’ — Bookpage
‘An engrossing and compelling read . . . saturated with the feel of 1950s South Africa.’ – Mike Nicol, author of the Revenge trilogy
‘Crime writers understand how place exposes character, but the best, like Nunn, explore the idea that place is also fate. Nunn sets her characters brilliantly within a complex psychological portrayal of a particular place and time.’ – Graeme Blundell, The Australian
‘Casual and institutional racism form a fascinating backdrop for the action, giving readers a feel for how apartheid actually looked and felt to those on both sides of the color line.’ – Kirkus Reviews
An excerpt from Present Darkness by Malla Nunn
JOHANNESBURG, DECEMBER 1953
Friday night. A dirt lane on the outskirts of Yeoville, where cars came out of the city then disappeared in the direction of the four-way intersection that led to the suburbs. The girl paced out the number of steps between the mouth of the alley and the vacant lot at the far end. Some men liked to lay her down in an open field. Most preferred to position her against the wall of the dark lane itself. After the urgency left them, they got into their cars and drove back to the flat sprawl of Johannesburg suburbs; nice places, with names like Sandton, Bedfordview and Edenvale. The girl liked to feel the money in her hands for a moment before she took it to the darkest part of the alley, pulled out the loose brick she knew was there, and shoved the bills behind it.
Between men, she stood halfway down the alley—in the shadows, but easy to see if one knew where to look. Squeezed between high brick walls and strewn with crushed kaffir weeds, the lane was ideal for clients with ten minutes to spare between knocking off work and heading home.
The sweep of car headlights lit the walls of the lane at intermittent intervals. The moonlight was faint and partially blocked by the roofline of the adjacent building. She didn’t mind the gloom. It softened the hard line of her jaw and smoothed the acne scars on her right cheek. She liked the darkness. In the dark she was perfect.
The sound of feet crunching the dirt broke the quiet and the girl looked up. Car lights swept past, briefly illuminating the dirt strip. A white man stood at the end of the alley, just emerged from the vacant lot. He was tall, big across the shoulders, and still. He wasn’t so much standing in the alley as blocking it.
A chill travelled up the girl’s legs and into her belly.
“Sorry, hey. Bad timing.” Fear sharpened her performance and she sounded every inch a slum-born English prostitute working for coins. “I’m just finished for the night.”
He moved towards her: big and getting bigger. Sure-footed. In no hurry. The girl backed away, worn heels scraping the dirt. Cars passed on the main road.
“Okay, wait.” She glanced over her shoulder and calculated twenty steps to the safety of traffic and people, maybe twenty-two. “Wait. Let’s talk. We can work something out. What is it you want?”
“Everything,” he said.
On another night and with another client she might have joked, “All right. But it will cost you.”
Not this time. She turned and sprinted for the alley exit. Images of a roadside trench and the cold weight of the earth covering her naked body one shovel-load at a time flashed through her mind. Every drop of street cunning accumulated over the hard years told her that the big man would take her blood and her bones. But he would pay nothing for what he took.
Seventeen, sixteen, steps more to the main road. In truth, she lost count. It didn’t matter. The traffic was louder, the headlights brighter. She risked a look over her shoulder. The man sauntered the dirt lane with his hands thrust deep into his pockets. He couldn’t catch her at that pace. She was almost safe. Home now, quickly. Turn the handle, slip inside and lock the door.
She turned back and slammed hard into a wiry body. The impact knocked her off balance and breath rushed from her lungs. Her shoulder smacked the ground and dirt filled her mouth. She looked up, dazed. A second man crouched down and cupped a hand over her mouth. His palms smelled of raw sugar; such a sweet scent amid the stench of urine and kaffir weed in the laneway. Then realisation came quickly. There were two men in the alley and together, they’d netted her like a bird.
The one holding her down said, “Make sure she’s white. He’s strict about that.”
The man who’d blocked the exit to the vacant lot slotted a cigarette into the corner of his mouth. The flare of a match briefly lit his face, which was clean-cut and handsome. His black hair was combed back from his forehead. A dream client. He squatted and held the flame inches from her face. Heat licked her pockmarked cheeks.
“White and ugly,” he said and leaned closer. “Do you want to ride home with me tonight, sweetheart?”
The wiry one still blocked her mouth with his hand. She shook her head. Twin funnels of smoke snaked from the handsome man’s nostrils and he smiled.