Review: Let The Dead Lie by Malla Nunn


Title: Let The Dead Lie {Detective Emmanuel Cooper #2}

Author: Malla Nunn

Published: Pan Macmillan April 2010

Synopsis: DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA, 1953. Forced to resign from his position of Detective Sergeant and re-classified as ‘mixed race’ after an incident involving a young black woman, Emmanuel Cooper winds up powerless and alone in the tough coastal city of Durban, mixing labouring with surveillance work for his old boss, Major van Nickerk. Patrolling the freight yards one night, he stumbles upon the body of a young white boy and the detective in him cannot, or will not, walk away. When two more bodies – this time an older English woman and her maid – are discovered at his boarding house, he unwittingly becomes the prime suspect in a triple murder case.

Status: Read from April 21 to 23, 2012 — I own a copy { Courtesy PanMacmillan Australia}

My Thoughts:

Let the Dead Lie is the exciting second novel from Malla Nunn featuring Detective Emmanuel Cooper series, following on from A Beautiful Place To Die. This crime series, set in Southern Africa in the 1950’s, has a gritty, dark realism that explores the political and social system of the period.
Detective Emmanuel Cooper is working on the docks in the port city of Durban having been forced to resign his position and accept a reclassification as ‘mixed race’ after the events in Jacob’s Rest. Despite his status, he has been recruited by Major van Niekerk to surveil criminal activity at the dock, which leads him to discover the body of a young boy with his throat slit. Emmanuel doesn’t have any faith that the police will solve the murder and begins his own unsanctioned investigation but his curiosity turns him into a prime suspect after his landlady and his maid are murdered. Emmanuel has just 48 hours to solve the crimes or be arrested and charged with the triple homicide. Unraveling the mystery sees Emmanuel face international intrigue, police corruption, turf wars, smugglers, and his own ghosts.

In Let The Dead Lie, Emmanuel struggles against himself as much as he does the corruption and crime of Southern Africa. The body of the dead boy affects him so strongly partly because Emmanuel was once a child of the slums, struggling to survive poverty and violence. Emmanuel is not the type of man to ignore a brutal murder, even when it is in his best interests. Led by his conscience, with a moral compass that chafes against the restrictions of 1950’s South African society, Emmanuel is determined to find justice for the murdered boy, no matter the personal cost. Even with just 48 hours to exonerate himself his focus remains on finding the murderer responsible for the child’s death, rather than the man who could set him free. It’s a subtle distinction but an important one because of what it tells you about Emmanuel’s character. Emmanuel would likely do as he pleased and damn the consequences if it wasn’t for the fact that others would be the ones to pay the price for his behaviour. Emmanuel believes himself to be irredeemably flawed and seems to court punishment, which he feels he deserves because of his failure to save his mother and his experiences during the war. He is constantly surprised by the loyalty of Constable Shabalala and Doctor Zwiegman. He doesn’t recognise the positive traits within himself that the men respond to with respect.

The action in Let The Dead Lie is fast paced with the bulk of the action taking place within the 48 hour window Emmanuel has to solve the crimes. Suspects are considered, some dismissed quickly, others studied for longer, but as the case grows more complicated the tension mounts. Investigating the boy’s murder leads Emmanuel into the middle of a turf war between Indian drug smugglers and an Underworld boss, and a Secret Police search for Russian traitors while staying ahead of the police who want their pound of flesh. Emmanuel is convinced the connections are there but can’t figure out how everything fits together. The plot is multilayered and complex but the links resolve into a satisfying conclusion.

The urban setting for Let The Dead Lie is as vivid as the stark country side of Jacob’s Rest, from the bustling, seedy port, to the Durban slums to the gated houses of the white aristocracy. The cultural framework of the novel though is what really sets this series apart from other crime novels. The tenants of apartheid makes my skin crawl and Nunn accurately and honestly portrays the disturbing racism and inequality of Southern Africa at the time. The characters that populate her novels are very much the products of such a twisted regime. Having experienced life with status and without, Emmanuel is more sensitive than most to the unfairness of the social system that determines every aspect of life by the colour of a person’s skin.

Once I had started Let The Dead Lie I found it difficult to put it down, engrossed in the thrilling action, strong characters and fascinating setting. This is a terrific, fast paced read that I highly recommend for readers of crime fiction. Personally I was so eager to prolong the experience I dived straight into the third installment, Silent Valley and wasn’t disappointed. Look for my review of Silent Valley, and my interview with Malla Nunn scheduled for next week.

Available to Purchase

@Pan Macmillan I @Boomerang Books I @Booktopia I @Amazon US (Kindle)

@Amazon US (paperback)I @Book Depository

About the Author

Malla Nunn grew up in Swaziland before moving with her parents to Perth in the 1970s. She attended uni in WA, and then the US. In New York, she worked on film sets, wrote her first screenplay and met her American husband to be, before returning to Australia where she began writing and directing short films and corporate videos. Her debut novel A Beautiful Place to Die was published to international acclaim and won the 2009 Sisters in Crime Davitt Award for Best Adult Crime Novel by an Australian female author. Malla and her husband live in Sydney with their two children.

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Margaret Lynette Sharp
    May 09, 2012 @ 20:10:23

    A well explained review of an enthralling crime plot. Incidentally, my local newspaper, the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader, featured an article a week or two ago about Malla Nunn and her books.



  2. Trackback: AWW Feature & Review: Chatting with Malla Nunn about Silent Valley « book'd out
  3. Trackback: Updates…New Releases…Links (or all the things we’ve missed in recent weeks) | Fair Dinkum Crime
  4. Trackback: Six Degrees of Separation: Stasiland to A Beautiful Place To Die | book'd out

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