Seeing the last three books I read were all rather harrowing in different ways, I decided an escape into the slightly unreal world of crime fiction was required. I found that the escape was short-lived; Finders Weepers may be centred on a crime but typical crime fiction it is not. I found myself caring way too much about the characters than I usually do when reading crime fiction; I usually care more about the outcome and the fact that I can whiz through the book in a relatively mindless way.
This book takes the main protagonist, Nix, into the rural remoteness of the Eastern Cape to find out why the daughter of her mother’s friend is missing. Nix is of mixed Xhosa / German parentage and was raised in the home of the people where her mother was a domestic worker. This device allows the writer to get away with Nix’s diction being closer to that of an English speaker than a Xhosa speaker; it also means that she has her own set of demons to lay to rest as her mother had been very secretive about her life and had divulged nothing to Nix. I really liked the parallel thread of Nix stumbling across her own relatives and how this is woven into the story. It was also a nice touch that she initially used her German name so the various people she interviewed would not know she understood Xhosa. Eavesdropping is always fun. Nix is a likeable character, if a little flippant; when describing the school of which the missing woman, Boniswa, is the new principal, she says, “The missionaries had chosen a beautiful site. Pty about apartheid.”
Although the plot centres on Nix’s search for Boniswa, the current issues in our country around education, teaching, child-headed households and poverty, play a very important part in this novel. In trying to find Boniswa, Nix interviews teachers, the pastor, neighbours and some of the learners. It is through their voices we gain a sense of their lives. The various women are interesting, real characters but there is also balance in that there are some such as Ms Peanut Butter Pheza who are awful. (Love her nickname though). Two of the learners, Lulu and Elias, are also very appealing which makes the eventual outcome quite sad. I will say no more on that score lest I spoil the story for future readers. There is a great diversity of people in this novel of many different backgrounds which reflect the reality of our country and shows that very few people, no matter which language they speak or where they come from, have a single clear identity.
The text is also interspersed with letters from the missing Boniswa to Dr Pauline Wilson. At first, I found these letters annoying as they seemed a little wooden and also spelled out so many things in South Africa that most of us know. Then I realised that Dr Pauline Wilson is American and so Boniswa had a reason for stating the obvious. Probably for overseas readers, this would be helpful in contextualising certain incidents in the novel. Though I did think that sometimes, certain myths that circulate were propagated. For example, the reason given for Boniswa struggling to find a cleaner to work at the school is that people live on government grants so they are happy to get by on that. That is ridiculous as the government grant is a mere pittance and anyone eligible for it would need and, most likely, want, to augment their income.
The dialogue brings the characters to life and I enjoyed the smattering of Xhosa which was usually followed by the English translation; this worked well and did not make it stilted. There were times when some of the characters went on a long diatribe about an issue which did not work as well; it was as if the writer’s opinions were showing. Despite that, Finders Weepers is a good read with enough suspense and scary moments to keep you turning the page and hoping against hope that Bonsiwa is found.