Reading it I remember thinking, gee whizz – from which part of Jo’burg’s heaving innards did she source this inside info! Well, wherever it came from she has gone back for more. Featured in Knucklebone were former cop Ian Jack and his one-time colleague Reshma Patel – and we find them again in Three Bodies, very definitely an item. And with the frontline peril of Reshma’s new appointment in a highly specialised cash heist prevention unit, you wonder how they sleep at night.
But stepping back from the crime and underworld, in a recent interview, NR Brodie, under which name she writes her thrillers, declares that her books always have an environmental backstory. In Archipelago, chapter one of Three Bodies, she puts her cards on the table with an alarming environmental foreground. Gardener Jonas Jiyane, methodically goes about his work removing triffid-like water hyacinth out of the Hartbeespoort dam. Water already strangled by algae where fish suffocate and he retrieves golf balls for resale. In the same interview she highlights the importance of unsettling otherwise ‘normal’ situations. And in the same chapter she does just this. As a thick black rope emerges from the water, Jonas, initially shocked thinking it to be a snake, realises it’s just rubbish. Until he finds there to be a whole mass of these spongey black ropes, writhing, apparently attached to something. ‘Something big.’ Turns out to be human hair. Attached to - a body. And so we have the first of the three bodies – all found in watery graves. Water is a theme that ripples through the book, beautiful but dangerous, pure but polluted, transparent but infinitely dark.
Next thing Reshma finds herself in a tunnel underneath Park Station, where there’s a channel filled with ‘unpleasant-looking brown water… the source of a thick stench of something like sewage’.
But Reshma is no sissy. Another theme that Brodie embraces (as a champion of feminism) is that a woman can be not just a cop, but a strong, fearless one. And that many cops do what they do in the name of truth and justice. In one hair-raising chapter in a strike on a heist-in-action, ‘Reshma, hyper-alert, kept her eyes fixed ahead of her. She’d fired off three shots on the approach. She didn’t want to waste more bullets, but there was a lone gunman on the blind side of the van.’
To be honest, I’m no crime-thriller fan – but back to Nechama Brodie, her research is intensely impressive. As is the level of her curiosity. In the acknowledgments she says ‘It is nearly a decade since I sat in a small Maboneng apartment with Gogo Nokulinda Mkhize and we discussed mermaids trapped in the Hartbeespoort Dam. The idea stayed with me, nor because it seemed implausible but because it had the feeling of truth (this might not be your truth, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t so).’
Thrillers may not be your thing either, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t something more to them than crime.