Mackenzie, Jassy – ‘Random Violence’
Paperback: 384 pages (Dec. 2011) Publisher: Soho Press ISBN: 1569479119
Jade de Jong returns to her native South Africa after ten years away. She’s a PI whose father was the police commissioner of Johannesburg, but who was shot and killed, the trigger for Jade’s departure. The criminals, two brothers, were imprisoned but Jade has heard that one of them is about to be released (the other died in jail). She returns, in effect, for revenge.
Jade was very close to her father; he has passed on to his daughter much of what he knew about law enforcement work. She has a yen for David Patel, a superintendent in the police force who was her father’s protege. When she arrives back in the country, David fixes her up not only with a temporary home but also, due to stretched police resources, with a job – investigating the murder of a well-off woman called Annette Botha, who was shot while trying to drive into her gated home one night.
The book continues with these dual themes of Jade’s investigation and quest for revenge, but its main strength is its depiction of the violent, heaving, overcrowded, booming Johannesburg. There is a real sense of paranoia here as anyone who can afford it lives behind bars (!) in large communities patrolled by security guards. People can be shot while driving their cars if they roll the windows down; road rage is at boiling point; crime goes unpunished; nowhere seems safe.
While Jade pursues leads in the Annette case, in particular the chief suspect Piet, the dead woman’s ex-husband, we learn of the extremely nasty past and present activities of Whiteboy, who is in some way behind Annette’s killing and who is cleaning up after him, frustrating Jade’s investigations. Jade, however, is not easily deterred and continues to find out, albeit incrementally, facts about a woman whom Annette was having followed and eventually discovers a large web of deceit and massive financial crime.
RANDOM VIOLENCE is an exciting read. The investigation is solid, and in the end there are a couple of good twists to the two main plots, although there are some clichés, such as Jade going into danger unarmed without telling anyone. I found the on-off relationship between Jade and David a weak point: Jade is well-depicted but David is rather one-dimensional. For me, the worst part of the book is its several horrible “flashback” descriptions of violence. I understand that the author needs to present an unsettling and terrifying present-day atmosphere, which she does well. But several times she veers off from the plot to provide us with a detailed account of how someone tortured and killed someone else in the past, for no other apparent reason than to show how bad this person is. I found this gratuitous, as well as pointless from the point of view of plot development or building up tension. Because I hate reading descriptions of people being tied up and killed in various inventive ways, I did not enjoy this book as much as I would otherwise have done.