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THE SATANIC MECHANIC
by Sally Andrew
Ecco, March 2017
368 pages
$26.99
ISBN: 0062397699


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The subtitle of THE SATANIC MECHANIC is "A Tannie Maria Mystery," so it's a bit unsettling to have the opening scene seem hardcore romance rather than murder mystery, even if one of the characters introduced is a policeman. And then there are the South African words—Afrikaans and otherwise. Though they're all translated, the English-speaker trips and stumbles, is thrown off balance—and enchanted.

Sally Andrew's latest entry in her Tannie Maria series is an enticing, engrossing novel filled with charmingly fascinating characters, interesting subplots, believable psychological struggles, a delightful sense of place and, yes, a mystery. The central character, Tannie Maria, dispenses relationship advice and recipes to the readers of a small newspaper, and she's self-aware enough to recognize that she, too, needs similar advice. She's in love with Detective Lieutenant Henk Kannemeyer, but Maria's past with an abusive husband is deeply affecting her current (and what she hopes to be future) relationship. She tries to cure herself as well as her readers with food, but finally realizes she needs more help. After seeing a man die as she watches helplessly and being warned off getting involved in another police investigation, Maria begins to attend therapy sessions offered by a man known as the “satanic mechanic.” Before long, Maria and the other participants in the therapy group are drawn further into a world of land disputes and murderous revenge, even as they all face horrific acts and images from their own pasts.

THE SATANIC MECHANIC is a cozy in the sense that it involves a small group of characters in a fairly closed community, and while the police are definitely investigating, it's the amateurs who gather the clues and discover the murderer. And, there are recipes. However, the larger world is very much present, and while the murder mystery is integral to the story, the main focus is on Tannie Maria's development. The story is told from her perspective, and the reader gets to know Maria deeply. The other characters, while less thoroughly developed, are all quite strong: Andrew draws them with sure strokes that define their psychological make-up, world views, and motivations quickly and distinctly. Andrew does an equally good job of evoking a sense of place without getting bogged down in long descriptions but conveying sensory details that put the reader firmly on Maria's stoep, at a concert where a man is dying, around a fire, or looking out over the veld.

If you're looking for a good story with a lot of psychological development, great characters, and a wonderfully portrayed setting, this is it. If you haven't read the first Tannie Maria novel, you'll encounter lots of references to it but won't be lost. You will, however, want to read both it and all future Tannie Maria tales.

§ Meredith Frazier, a writer with a background in English literature, lives in Dallas, Texas

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, April 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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