BOOK REVIEW: Nechama Brodie’s Three Bodies
The follow-up to her 2018 fiction debut, Knucklebone, it is another tale that delves into the crimes Reshma Patel and Ian Jack investigate in and around Gauteng
Cash-in-transit heists, Park Station, the SA police, Hartbeespoort Dam — they’re all part of the SA landscape and our daily lives, so it’s unusual to pick up a thriller and find yourself immersed in a world that features them too. It’s a space on paper that seems so familiar and yet absolutely not.
Such is the case with journalist and author Nechama Brodie’s newest novel — Three Bodies (Pan Macmillan). The follow-up to her 2018 fiction debut, Knucklebone, it is another tale that delves into the crimes Reshma Patel and Ian Jack investigate in and around Gauteng.
The book is a Hollywood-worthy high-speed chase to unravel crime syndicates and human trafficking outfits, but it doesn’t shy away from the personal issues of our modern world — including social inequality, racism and the harsh lives so many South Africans lead.
The blurring of fact and fiction is unsurprising, given that Brodie has recently completed a PhD that centres on femicide. She also has a nonfiction book on the topic coming out in June.
It is true to Brodie’s style that just when you think you’re on top of the world she’s created, up pops the realm of magic and the supernatural. Read both books in the series and prepare for some real twists and turns on the streets you know.
The FM fired two quick questions at the author:
Why did you decide to write crime novels?
Honestly, I have always loved crime-mystery, detective stories, whodunnits, twists and turns in the plots. That is at the heart of many of the stories I love: solving a mystery. Even great sci-fi is often just a detective novel or thriller set on another planet or different solar system.
This long preceded my professional and academic work with violence and crime, and probably informed it to some extent. My academic work is about trying to get to grips with the "why" by understanding the "how".
My novels use the "how" as a metaphor for the "why". I definitely think with Three Bodies and Knucklebone there is an aspect of wish fulfilment, where I wish it was possible to resolve the mess, to defeat evil, with a little supernatural help. It’s not, but it feels better being able to get the upper hand in my made-up crime worlds.
Is Joburg the most important character?
No, increasingly less so. After I wrote my Joburg books, a decade ago, I was so enmeshed in the city that the very familiarity with its spaces kind of prompted the story (in Knucklebone). In Three Bodies, and some other works in progress, the geography is expanded or completely different.
In this case, Joburg is just one node of the spaces where bad things happen. The book stretches north and south across Gauteng and into North West, from the Vaal to the Hartbeesport Dam.
The geography is a key element of the story, but it’s no longer restricted to one city or place. It is about uncomfortable spaces, or places that feel either a little off kilter or where you always have to watch your back — like you are always waiting for the other shoe to drop; maybe that is a very Joburg thing though