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Customer reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
46
3.9 out of 5 stars


on 3 July 2017
This is an immensely readable book. It has thoughtfully presented characters, and places them into the complex world of apartheid - lifting the vail that kept communities separate, while tackling a murder mystery. The book also questions how different races create myths about themselves. Well worth reading.
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on 9 October 2017
This is one of the best detective novels I have read. Thrilling story, wonderful characters that are genuinely interesting. Captures the nuances , vitality, courage and pain of South Africa in the 1950s perfectly while never preaching. Interesting twists and turns and wonderful writing. Have now read the whole series as have all my friends. Hope a new one comes soon.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 November 2012
This novel could be classed as an 'historical detective story' but there is nothing chintzy or twee about it. Malla Nunn mixes the chaotic social situation of post-war South Africa with an intriguing murder investigation.
The story reveals how apartheid affected different classes/colours of people in the decade after WW2, and gave me a whole new insight into the polyglot nature of SA society. But it's not just a history lesson -- the plot, which revolves around the murder of an Afrikaans Police Captain, is intriguing in its own right. The core characters of the tale are interesting too: the protagonist is an isolated detective from Jo-burg, shell-shocked from WW2 and out on a limb against the interests of the security service. The hero has to rely on various locals including a Jewish emigre who has his own share of secrets, and the native population including the dead Captain's 'spiritual brother'. Almost everyone has something to hide -- and almost all of the secrets revolve around the tightening race laws of the time.
The writing is extremely accessible and although many of the plot devices are conventional I didn't find that 'A Beautiful Place To Die' was in any way predictable. I hope Malla Nunn follows it up with more stories set in the same time and place so we can see how some of the characters develop... and her descriptions of the veldt and the township are stunning.
A more than competant debut.
8/10
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HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 September 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This novel could be classed as an 'historical detective story' but there is nothing chintzy or twee about it. Malla Nunn mixes the chaotic social situation of post-war South Africa with an intriguing murder investigation.
The story reveals how apartheid affected different classes/colours of people in the decade after WW2, and gave me a whole new insight into the polyglot nature of SA society. But it's not just a history lesson -- the plot, which revolves around the murder of an Afrikaans Police Captain, is intriguing in its own right. The core characters of the tale are interesting too: the protagonist is an isolated detective from Jo-burg, shell-shocked from WW2 and out on a limb against the interests of the security service. The hero has to rely on various locals including a Jewish emigre who has his own share of secrets, and the native population including the dead Captain's 'spiritual brother'. Almost everyone has something to hide -- and almost all of the secrets revolve around the tightening race laws of the time.
The writing is extremely accessible and although many of the plot devices are conventional I didn't find that 'A Beautiful Place To Die' was in any way predictable. I hope Malla Nunn follows it up with more stories set in the same time and place so we can see how some of the characters develop... and her descriptions of the veldt and the township are stunning.
A more than competant debut.
8/10
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VINE VOICEon 21 July 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
World War Two veteran Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper is sent alone to the small settlement of Jacob's Rest to investigate the murder of Afrikaaner police captain Pretorius. The suspects are few, but include a mysterious sex molester, an "old jew" and various "coloured" inhabitants of the town.When the Security Branch turn up he is pushed to one side as they determine to pin the blame on communist agitators and he must use all his skills to get to the truth and eventually survive.

Cooper,as is the way with modern detectives, is tortured by his personal demons and scarred both physically and mentally by his wartime experiences. A decent man he struggles to do the decent thing whilst hiding a secret of his own. I found him reasonably enganging although not entirely convincing,although Nunn does manage to draw convincing portraits of many of the book's other characters. The mystery itself is fairly satisfying, but not really central to the book, which is more about creating a picture of South Africa during apartheid.By setting her story in 1952 Nunn is able to make several comparisons to Nazi Germany all of which seem highly pertinent.

I found this all very reasonable, although I did have problems with the book; primarily that it was very cliched and stereotypical in a modern liberal way. Other than Cooper and the "old jew" there is only one white character who is anything other than brutal, bullying or venal. Conversely, virtually every black and "coloured" character is a decent, warm hearted, humanistic individual.This tends to make the book as one sided as the white centred novels it seems to want to redress.

Nevertheless, that criticism aside, I found it very enjoyable and looked forward to settling down and reading through fifty odd pages a day. It wants to be something more than it is and fails on that score, but as a fairly lightweight crime novel that paints a convincing picture of the horrors of apartheid it works very well. Unfortunately,the ackowledgments at the back of the book illustrate only too clearly the weaknesses of this novel; usually thanks reserved for mentors, editors, agents and long suffering partners, Ms Nunn's include her "posse's" of friends who variously cooked her "restaurant quality meals","lit the path on the darkest nights" or helped her make the "transition into motherhood" . Why she thinks her readers will find this of any interest is beyond me.
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on 20 August 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
It would be fairly hard to review this book without giving away the plot, were it not for the fact that it is quite long and laid out in a conventional, linear fashion. Neither of these are bad things of course, but there are definate undertones to this book that use a lot of pages up. For example, it is described in great depth how a black police officers desk is situated in a far less salubrious part of the police station. Rather than going into great detail, a simple descriptive would have sufficed. The primary motive of this book is, of course, concerned with describing a murder, and whilst racial motivation plays a part, and is naturally a background to its setting being South Africa in the 1950's, there are parts when it seems to take over the proceedings.

The book has been described by some reviewers as a 'page turner', but surely this is the minimum requirement for any book greater than one page long! Worth reading, but I'm not sure if I would be attracted to this book had it not been given to me.
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on 29 July 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The first novel by Malla Nunn which is a bit slow to get going but builds towards a satisfying conclusion as events keep unfolding. The setting of 1950's South Africa is interesting although the complexity of the racial issues are not always explored as deeply as they should be with the lead "Cooper" and one other being the only sympathetic white characters with others portrayed as violent bully's while most black characters behave decently. While she is obviously trying to make a point this makes the book appear one sided and loses some of the credibility of the story. This is a shame as the characters were well developed including the minor ones and behave plausibly apart from this. The story has echoes of Raymond Chandler in the feel of the book but with its own sense of style that I found very satisfying.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 27 February 2009
A Beautiful Place to Die is an incredibly satisfying book to read on so many levels. Firstly, it is an intriguing crime novel (it centers on the investigation into the death of an Afrikaner police captain in rural South Africa), but I enjoyed it even more because of the compelling way that it captures life in 1950s South Africa. I was aware that apartheid was in force at that time, but the book shows how race relations were far more complicated than a simple black-white divide.

This is the author's first crime novel but she has an excellent sense of pace and the need to keep events unfolding. There were aspects of the mystery that I found quite predictable but there were other aspects that took me by surprise. I also enjoyed the characterisations with even the minor characters being well rounded and brought vividly to life. The best crime novels are about far more than a simple whodunnit, and this is right up there with anything that I've read. I would categorize it as cross between Alexander McCall Smith and Raymond Chandler.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 30 December 2010
Africa remains a relatively unexplored setting for crime novels, so I was pleased to come across this book set in 1950s South Africa. It opens with Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper arriving in the tiny eastern border town of Jacob's Rest to investigate a report of a drowned police officer. It turns out the man found floating in a pool of water was the town's police captain/unofficial mayor, and was shot through the head. Thus begins Cooper's trip down the dark mean dirt paths that criss-cross the velt behind the town's Afrikaner, Zulu, and Colored houses, shops, and farms. As in any good small-town crime story, nearly everyone has secrets to hide from Cooper -- even the stoic Zulu police constable and mysterious Jewish shopkeeper who become his sidekicks. However, what might have been a standard procedural whodunit in an exotic setting is vastly complicated by the arrival on the scene of two national Security Force goons who take over the investigation. They are hunting for a communist angle to the murder, even if they have to beat it out of an innocent scapegoat, or knock a non-Afrikaner policeman like Cooper around.

These Security Force guys are more dangerous than any criminal Cooper has faced in Johannesburg, and he has to tread lightly around them in order to find the real killer. The story takes place just after the passing of the Immorality Act, banning sexual relations between the races, so you know that's going to play a big role in the story. And indeed it does, as Cooper strips away layer after layer of propriety and deception to reveal the not-so-innocent heart of this supposed "Godly" town, he gets closer and closer to being a victim himself. There's a kind of silly semi-supernatural element to it, as Cooper sometimes hears the voice of his old Scottish drill sergeant in his subconscious yelling at him to keep digging deeper and not to give in. While the bulk of the book is pretty engaging and fun, the climax is a bit of a letdown. The villain, when unmasked is somewhat disappointing, having been motivated by largely invisible extreme pathologies. I never like it when an otherwise perfectly decent crime story features a loony villain, I guess I prefer things to be more mundane. On the whole, however, it's a decent debut with some great atmosphere and a protagonist I wouldn't mind spending another book with. (And indeed, Cooper returns in the Durban-set Let the Dead Die).
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on 29 April 2011
FIRST SENTENCE (Chapter 1): Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper switched off the engine and looked out through the dirty windscreen.

MEMORABLE MOMENT (Page 151): Every colour from fresh milk to burnt sugar was on show. There was enough direct evidence in the churchyard to refute that blood mixing was unnatural. Plenty of people managed to do it just fine.

KEEP IT OR NOT?: A reading group book, I shall return this for other readers to read and discuss.

A debut novel that I both enjoyed reading and learnt a lot from - I will certainly be looking out for further books by this author. A real page-turner - the crime/thriller aspect to the story was interesting enough but, for me, it was the insight into 1950s South Africa that was so fascinating.Well researched, A Beautiful Place To Die tells the story of a country segregated not only into 'whites' and 'blacks' but also into 'coloureds' as well - throw a Jewish character into the racial stew and you have a compelling if somewhat disturbing look at a country where, and I quote .....

"The new segregation laws divided people into race groups, told them where they could live and told them where they could work. The Immorality Act went so far as to tell people who they could sleep with and love."

Not only a good plot, there is a real mix of wonderfully observed characters who, though not always pleasant, are always human and make for great reading. My only 'complaint'? I would love to know more about the previous lives of 'English' South African Detective Emmanuel Cooper and Jewish doctor (?) Daniel Zweigman and hope the author explores at least Cooper in greater depth in her second book Let the Dead Lie
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