In December, Karkloof Blue was Krimi der Woche in Die Welt. Here’s a translation of the review by Elmar Krekeler:
“Sometimes there are books you wish you had never read. Not because those books are so horrifying in themselves, but because the implications are horrifying. Such as if we take the content and apply it to what is currently happening in Syria; extrapolating outwards it will be a horrifyingly long time for the wounds to heal, for something new to rise from the ashes, for a new nation to be built on the ruins, on the hurts, on mountains of human bones and on lakes of spilled human blood.
Arguably the leading centre for producing this type of horrifying literature is South Africa. It’s all there; especially in the crime novels full of inconceivable hardness and precision, revealing the breathtaking brutality of violence from disruptions large and small still occurring day in, day out when the tectonic plates of this ruptured society rub up against the as yet largely unresolved past.
A society reeking of testosterone
Take Charlotte Otter – although we could equally have taken Roger Smith, Mike Nicol or half a dozen others instead – it’s a random selection, pretty much. Or then perhaps not. Charlotte Otter, you see, is the only woman who springs to mind right now. And based on our own personal observations – this will drive the sexual equality folks crazy – a woman has a broader view when it comes to male-dominated societies; societies reeking of testosterone, like South Africa.
Back to Charlotte Otter. She’s a South African journalist, IT expert and lives in Heidelberg. What we first encounter in her second crime novel are a waterfall washing away all clues, and yellowed winter grass which retains no clues or tracks. We are in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. Just around the corner from Howicks Fall lies Pietermaritzburg, pretty much the distilled essence of South Africa. The barometer that Charlotte Otter uses to gauge this averagely run-down, 200,000 soul dump goes by the name of Maggie Cloete and is an investigative journalist now chained to a desk masterfully turning out news stories.
A story as flighty as a rare blue butterfly
We’ll get to Maggie in a minute. First of all, however, our eyes are drawn to the flight of a flamboyant-looking little butterfly. Answering to the name orachrysops ariadne, but more commonly called the Karkloof Blue, it glides and judders its way through the air, zigzagging around, first over a carefully folded bundle of clothes that has been placed at the fractured edge of the waterfall… then over the naked corpse of Dave Bloom, lying smashed to pieces on the rocks below.
Not unlike the butterfly in flight, Maggie Cloete zigzags through her second case. Bloom was employed by Sentinel, a paper manufacturer turning the indigenous forests around Pietermaritzburg into endless pine monocultures to serve their own purposes. The last remnant of forest is slated for clearing, but this is the Karkloof Blue’s natural habitat. Environmentalists and tree conservationists have plans to stop this happening. Preventing the clearance is what Bloom wanted; it’s what the activists’ leader and self-styled guru wants; and it’s what Maggie’s brother Christo also wants.
With smooth horizontal, vertical and crosswise strokes dissecting the history of Pietermaritzburg, Charlotte Otter sheds light on the murders of young anti-apartheid activists left to an agonising death from Anthrax poisoning and then buried; on the trauma inflicted upon young men after refusing to commit hideous murders in the name of protecting the borders while in uniform; on the highly questionable deception strategy of large international corporations donning the guise of quasi capitalist environmentalists, all the while mercilessly destroying the last habitat of the Karkloof Blue.
This is known as greenwashing. People die, bodies come to light, conspiracies, sinister secret activities… all are covered up by the government. This is how it is in South Africa; as soon as your spade cuts the ground, corpses rise up from the apartheid regime.
Maggie zooms around on her motorcycle, becoming increasingly tired of constantly having to report on people’s inhumanity towards others.
The apartheid regime ended a good quarter of a century ago, but in South Africa nothing is ever really peaceful. You only need turn up the heat up one notch and the ‘melting pot’ encompassing all influential South Africans, united purely by concept alone, will explode. This is how it is on every level, in every family.
Now consider how long it will take Syria and the entire Middle East to get anywhere approaching the stage that South Africa is at today. Horrifying.”
With thanks to the fabulous Louisa Bird.
June 3, 2016 at 7:33 am
Excellent article. And a good point re Syria and other societies where conflict has torn them apart. I finished Karkloof Blue last night and I really enjoyed it. I disagree that we could easily have taken Roger Smith or Mike Nicol. Their jaundiced view often lacks the compassion and empathy that is present in Charlotte’s interpretation of our South African society. Despite Maggie’s cynicism, she also has threads of idealism. I loved the surprises in Karkloof Blue (the bones in the forest) and the descriptions of places that I know as they are today. Still don’t see why Solomon is out of the running (what a dish).
June 4, 2016 at 1:02 am
Congratulations on this recognition for your important and pertinent work.