09 March 2009

Salvation in Death (JD Robb)

Available at all good bookstores, courtesy of Penguin Books South Africa

JD Robb is one of my favourite, favourite, favourite authors. Despite the fact that she's really Nora Roberts and I don't like Nora Roberts' books at all. That little nom-de-plumary tidbit notwithstanding, JD Robb's futuristic murder books, the ... In Death series, featuring the superb Lieutenant Eve Dallas, are so fabulous that I named my kitten Dallas.

But... For a while now she's been getting tired. JD Robb, I mean, not Eve Dallas or (Oh, I wish!) my kitten. And her novels started to head off in the direction of formulaic and not a little bit trite. So you can imagine my joy when I read her penultimate offering, Salvation in Death, and found it fresh, clever, and fully capable of standing on its own even without the rest of the series behind it.


This, the story of a priest who dies a grisly and public death when he sips from a poisoned chalice, is new in its setting and style. It is fresh in its detail and in the clever way it weaves the whodunnit web around the unsuspecting reader. It's great. But (and this is my only reservation) I'm growing a little tired of Dallas' past finding its way into every book...

Surely she wasn't connected to everyone on earth when she was eight years old and tormented by her drunken father?

If you're new to Robb, this is a great start. If you're a Robb fan, this'll reassure you that she's more or less back on track. But if you staunchly dislike like books set in the 2070s and you can't open up enough to try just one, read Coben or Siegel or Fairstein or Deaver instead.


The Various Flavours of Coffee (Anthony Capella)

Available at all good bookstores, courtesy of Penguin Books South Africa

I'm a coffee fiend, and I'll readily admit it. If it makes a difference, you should know that I like my coffee strong, black and thick enough to hold the spoon upright all by itself. And in this, as it turns out, I'm not alone.

Anthony Capella's Robert Wallis is what I call a bum - but he's a circa 1896 bum, so he speaks beautifully, dresses beautifully, comes up with endless beautiful nonsense and charms the petticoats off the ladies. He's also the composer of a 'vocabulary of coffees': new leaf, summer leaf, pewter, jet, smoke, gingerbread - intended to capture different beans' elusive flavours and explain them, uniformly, to the world.

But when he is denied the hand of Emily, his boss's bright and beautiful daughter, he heads off to Africa to find the world's finest coffee, and encounters things he'd never have believed were possible: slavery, corruption, passion, betrayal, and twists and turns that unravel over two decades.

Incidentally, this book (by the author of The Food of Love and The Wedding Officer) is one of the most erotic I've read in years...


Pieternella - Daughter of Eva (Dalene Matthee)

Available at all good bookstores, courtesy of Penguin Books South Africa

I was, perhaps, the only kid in my class who adored Fiela se Kind. Who sent her mom to buy her the English version not because she couldn’t be bothered to read it in its original Afrikaans, but because it was a pretty cool story. Who finished school and then, horror of horrors, read it again. Out of choice.

This is why the latest in the Dalene Matthee stable, Pieternella – Daughter of Eva, excited me so much. First published as Pieternella van die Kaap in 2000, it was translated into English in 2008 by Malcolm Hacksley, who I don’t know and have never heard of, but who must be an utter, utter genius.

The book, from cover to characters, plot to punchlines, setting to story, is exquisite. And much of it is true. Set in the 17th century, when the first white settlers arrived at The Cape of Good Hope, Pieternella introduces us to the realities of being mixed-race; of having a Goringhaicona mother and a Dutch father. She walks us through the corridors of The Dutch East India Company; she shows us its stranglehold on Robben Island, the isle of banishment.

And, all the while, we grow fonder and fonder of this strong-willed girl, and we will her to be happy. As she enters the frightening penal colony that is Mauritius. As she enters a premature marriage to what we hope will be a kind man. As she tries to manage her damaged brother, Solomon. As she bites her nails and prays that her children will not be born 'too brown'... We hold thumbs and hope along with her.