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PALE HORSES
by Jassy Mackenzie
Soho, April 2013
320 pages
$25.95
ISBN: 1616952210


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

As this fourth in Jassy Mackenzie's series featuring Jade de Jong opens, the private investigator finds herself in a bad place. She has recently learned some unpleasant truths about her mother and, even worse, she has been forced by circumstances to take part in a deed she deeply regrets. Furthermore, her lover, David Patel, has returned to his wife who is newly pregnant after a brief encounter with her estranged husband.

None of this is enough to keep Jade from rising to the bait proffered by a prospective client, Victor Theron. Theron's girlfriend, Sonet van Rensburg, has plummeted to her death from the top of a not-quite-finished skyscraper in Sandton, a wealthy district in Johannesburg. She and Theron were engaged in their hobby of BASE-jumping, parachuting off of anything that isn't a plane. Theron went first and succeeded in landing safely; Sonet's chute did not open. Theron is devastated at her loss, but more pressingly he is afraid of being accused of Sonet's murder and wants to hire Jade to find out the how and why of the disaster.

As she investigates Sonet's life and circumstances, Jade is led away from glittering up-scale Sandton to rural Limpopo, where she discovers that an agricultural project established by the charity Sonet worked for has now fallen into utter and puzzling ruin. Worse, she has attracted the murderous attention of interests that are intent on keeping her from finding out any more than she already knows about what has happened here. What ensues is a tension-filled series of pursuits, punctuated by the re-kindling of her romance with David, who as a policeman is unofficially involved in the case.

While Jade, a sort of South African second cousin to V I Warshawski, is an attractive hero in many ways, Jassy Mackenzie's technique remains a bit crude. The unravelling of the plot requires the author to convey a fair amount of information to the reader that Mackenzie has trouble weaving seamlessly into the narrative. (A major stretch is required when Jade reads excerpts from an important notebook to a Jack Russell terrier, who does, admittedly, seem to find them compelling.) The romantic element struck me as largely perfunctory, except as a way of retaining David as a continuing series character and a tender moment between David and Jade toward the end of the novel takes place in circumstances that many readers will find ridiculous rather than erotic. But like VI, Jade has a social conscience and a firm sense of her own identity that make up for any number of technical weaknesses.

There is as well a large ration of raw energy about the book that makes it hard to resist, and its evocation of contemporary life in South Africa, especially among its middle and upper classes, is valuable and interesting. And it makes the important point that global interests remain a barrier to South Africa's efforts to repair the damages inflicted by the sorry history of the country.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, June 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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