AWW Feature & Review: Chatting with Malla Nunn about Silent Valley

Malla Nunn grew up in Swaziland before moving with her parents to Perth in the 1970s. She attended university 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. Fade to White, Sweetbreeze and Servant of the Ancestors have won numerous awards and have shown at international film festivals from Zanzibar to New York.  Malla’s first novel, A Beautiful Place To Die won the 2009 Sisters in Crime (Australia) Davitt Award for Best Adult Crime Novel,  and was shortlisted in 2010 for Edgar Award. Let the Dead Lie, the second in her Detective Emmanuel series, was released in 2010 and Silent Valley has been released this month. Malla and her husband live in Sydney with their two children.

I was given the wonderful opportunity by Pan Macmillan Australia to chat with Malla Nunn and ask her a few questions about her Detective Emmanuel crime series. Malla was incredibly gracious, especially given my nervousness. I couldn’t find my proper microphone so I chatted to Malla with my phone on speaker and a Wii Sing microphone held up to the receiver.  For that reason you will find you need to turn your speakers all the way up to hear us. We talk up a storm and though I kept it to just half an hour, I could have talked to her all day.

Click here to listen to my chat with  Malla Nunn

(MP3 approx : 30 mins long).

As you listen,  read my five star review of Silent Valley.

Title: Silent Valley (released in the US as Blessed Are the Dead)

Author: Malla Nunn

Published: Pan Macmillan May 2012

Synopsis: A remote town. A girl of rare and exquisite beauty. A murder that silences a whole community. The body of a seventeen-year-old girl has been found covered in wildflowers on a hillside in the Drakensberg Mountains, near Durban. She is the daughter of a Zulu chief, destined to fetch a high bride price. Was Amahle as innocent as her family claims, or is her murder a sign that she lived a secret life? Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper is sent to investigate. He must enter the guarded worlds of a traditional Zulu clan and a white farming community to gather up the clues Amahle left behind and bring her murderer to justice. But the silence in the valley is deafening, and it seems that everyone – from the uncooperative local police officer, to the white farm boy who seems obsessed with the dead girl – has something to hide. With no cause of death and no motive, Cooper’s investigation is blocked at each turn. Can he tough it out, or will the small-town politics that stir up his feelings about the past be more than he can bear? In this page-turning tale of murder and mystery, Nunn entangles us in a rich and complex web of witchcraft, tribalism, taboo relationships… and plain old-fashioned greed

Status: Read from April 24 to 25, 2012 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

After finishing Let The Dead Lie I was eager to dive into Silent Valley, the third installment of Malla Nunn’s Detective Emmanuel Copper series set in Southern Africa in the 1950’s. Silent Valley picks up a short time after Let The Dead Lie ends with Emmanuel on his first real case since being reinstated to the force. Along with Native Constable Samuel Shabalala, Colonel van Niekerk has sent Emmanuel to a small rural town where a homicide has been reported, what they find is the posed body of a dead Zulu girl, the daughter of a local cheiftan, with no visible signs of injury. Though under orders to wrap the investigation quickly and return to Durban, solving the murder is proving to be difficult being as it is complicated by a lazy local cop, a corrupt station owner, an arrogant chief and a reluctant doctor. Finding Mr Insurance Policy might just crack the case wide open, but things are never quite that simple for Detective Emmanuel Cooper.

The plotting of Silent Valley is superb, there are numerous twists and turns that kept me guessing almost the entire way through the novel. Emmanuel and Shabalala have to use every bit of their combined knowledge and skills to find the murderer and, as usual, Emmanuel can’t help but step on a few toes in the process. He puts the town’s Constable offside almost immediately by questioning his competence, while a powerful white local family, the son of whom is a suspect, wants the whole matter quashed and pulls strings within the CID to place pressure on Emmanuel. It seems that everyone is this community has secrets that would prefer remain hidden and none take kindly to Emmanuel investigating them. Emmanuel is not willing to give up though and continues to follow leads even those that seem to pull him in opposite directions.
I really liked the way Shabalala’s unique skills are brought the the fore in Silent Valley. The Zulu culture is an important feature of the story and as a Shangaan Zulu, Shabalala helps interpret the beliefs and motives of the local Zulu tribe. His tracking and keen observation abilities are also integral to Emmanuel considering and dismissing suspects and Shabalala gains more confidence in his partnership with Emmanuel in this more familiar setting.
It is Colonel Van Niekerk that insists on the involvement of Dr Zweigman in the case when the local medic, Dr Helen Dagliesh proves reluctant to assist with determining the cause of the girl’s death. The three men, Emmanuel, Shabalala and the Doctor, are a formidable team as always, but on this case, their refusal to back down results in a life threatening injury to the ‘old Jew’.

While solving the murder of Amahle remains the central focus of the novel, Nunn continues to explore the culture of Southern Africa in the 1950’s. The stark realities of Apartheid are ever present and Nunn also explores the conflict between white Afrikaners and the English.
Tribalism and witchcraft also play a part as the investigation involves a local Zulu tribe.

Silent Valley is my favourite of this high quality crime series so far and leaves me eager for the next. With intelligent writing, intriguing story and appealing characters, the Detective Emmanuel series should be on everybody’s reading list.

Available to Purchase

@ PanMacmillan I @Boomerang Books I @Booktopia

@ Amazon (Kindle as Silent Valley) I @ Amazon (as Blessed Are The Dead on Preorder) I @Book Depository (as Blessed Are The Dead on Preorder)

Alternate Cover

15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lizabelle
    May 15, 2012 @ 11:00:05

    Really enjoyed listening to this – thanks, Shelleyrae (and Malla)! So interesting to get an insight into her writing process and her thinking behind the books.



  2. Mystica
    May 15, 2012 @ 13:22:30

    This is a new author for me. However, because it is an Aussie author I am sure I will be able to find these books in Melbourne on my next visit. Definitely going on the TBR.



  3. Margaret Lynette Sharp
    May 15, 2012 @ 15:36:39

    Congratulations to Malla Nunn for her most intriguing novel. A wonderful achievement!



  4. bernadetteinoz
    May 15, 2012 @ 19:13:38

    I’ve bookmarked this to come back and listen when I have some more time as I want to soak it all in – I loved the first two books in this series and have got the third one to read soon (sadly I am packing up to move house in a few short weeks so not much reading time at the moment).



  5. Helene Young
    May 17, 2012 @ 17:36:05

    Loved the interview, Shelleyrae. I’ve been waiting, waiting, waiting for the release of this book after discovering Malla Nunn at last years Sisters in Crime conference in Melbourne.

    I’ve always had a fascination with all things African and her characters are truly memorable. I’m hoping to find time in a couple of weeks to sit and enjoy the latest Emmanuel Cooper instalment!



  6. The Australian Bookshelf
    May 18, 2012 @ 15:05:32

    Great interview Shelleyrae! It sounds like the two of you hit it off well and Malla is a very fascinating author. I’ve seen your reviews for her series and I’m now convinced to check it out!

    P.s- I love your ‘oh my god’ comment at the end of the interview, it made me laugh! Half an hour is a marathon interview, but you conducted it very smoothly and it was very engaging 🙂 Well done!



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