I picked up this book intending to read for about twenty minutes and did not budge from my chair until I had finished reading it four or five hours later. It is gripping, entertaining and very funny, with convincing yet individualistic characters; a modern mystery story with a healthy dose of various inter-personal relationship dramas.It is set in Johannesburg and one gains a sense of the city and the South-Africanness of the characters without it being an over-riding theme.
The Cowley twins disappeared from a doctor’s waiting room thirty-four years ago and no trace of them could be found at the time. This has a profound effect on the family; their mother, Tertia, sinks into deep depression from which she never fully recovers while the father, Alan, and son, Tim, go to great lengths to ensure that no reports of missing children reach her ears if they can help it as this plunges the family straight back into the misery of the time.
Tim is now married to Alison who has decided to give up her job as an accountant and secretly wants a baby but has not shared this with Tim. She is sure it will be fine because he has recently landed a promotion. However, Tim had not been awarded the promotion after all and his new boss is black, apparently an affirmative action appointee. I do like that Tim points out that he is not against affirmative action in principle but had not anticipated it would affect him. “Much like global warming. Maybe I’m also wrong about global warming”, he says. (Some of our white writers do not seem sensitive to the fact that apartheid discrimination needs to be addressed).
He does not tell Alison that he had been overlooked. This puts him in many awkward situations. He gets on well with his new boss but avoids socializing with him so that Alison does not find out the truth. Tim’s father, Alan, recruits Alison to help him audit the books of his company so he can assess its value with a view to selling up; she comes across some very creative accounting and begins to investigate him surreptitiously. This creates some distance between her and Tim that is exacerbated by the attention he is receiving from a journalist, Amanda, who believes they are destined to be together. His obliviousness to the signals from Amanda and the way she interprets the most innocuous gestures as signs that he is keen on her is hilarious.
The narrative also includes a brother and sister, Cricket and Julie, who moved to Johannesburg from Durban to escape their fanatically religious mother. To no avail, as her church moved to Johannesburg. Cricket is gay and has recently been dumped by his older lover, Anton. He is also going through medical tests for a mystery illness but it is not AIDS, thankfully. The story is told alternately from the viewpoints of Tim, Alison, Amanda and Cricket. Each of their voices is casual and conversational, with asides thrown in that have the reader laughing aloud. Literally.
I like the fact that the workplaces of the various characters are included. This brings it to life and gives the sense that these are real people going about their ordinary lives who have been thrown into complicated situations. The gay brother, Cricket and his relationship is very well portrayed too. Another charming aspect of this book is the way it explores and exposes relationships between all sorts of people. The suspense is heightened as the investigations by different people lead to clandestine behaviour and many close shaves. The various strands interwine and unravel until all is revealed at the final showdown. It is refreshing to read a book without an agenda. A ripping good read that is clever, well plotted, laugh out loud funny with convincing characters. Simply unputdownable, great entertainment.