Counting the Coffins by Diale Tlholwe #44_2015

counting the coffins

Thabang Maje, the ex-teacher turned private investigator first encountered in Ancient Rites, is back. His cynical, world-weary take on the world is heightened as personal tragedy has befallen him. His wife, Lesego, pregnant with twins, had a car crash trying to avoid a drugged teenager. She is in hospital, one twin died and the other is also in hospital battling for her life. He is grieving and struggling to get on with life as the world seemed to expect.

One of his partners hands over a file for him to peruse, an orange file that had previously been abandoned as the clients did not have the money to pursue it. His interest is piqued by the name Sandile Nkosi, father of the boy who had caused his wife’s crash, the man who had tried to lay the blame on Lesego thus causing further anger and turmoil for Thabang. He forces himself to read it but is not sure he wants to pursue it as “he was getting tired of tales of woe from people who had got ripped off by smarter crooks while plotting to rip off people less smart than themselves.” Then he thought of old MaMolefe back in Marakong-a-Badimo (the setting in Ancient Rites) who had said, “Make it mean something!” referring to their loss.

Thabang discovers that Nkosi has his fingers in many pies, such as pyramid schemes, a brothel fronting as a nightclub as well as being involved in a consortium of politically connected bigwigs who were granted a government contract to build a large shopping mall near Thokoza, east of Alberton. Everything had gone wrong and the mall was a “half-finished monstrosity”, lots of finger-pointing and missing money. Thabang is attracted to this mess in the hopes of nailing Nkosi. This decision catapults him into another world and he is embroiled in situations he could not have anticipated.

The settings add a sort of gritty realism such as the spot where he meets ex-journo and friend Tolo;  “a dark, nameless bar and restaurant in Nugget street, off route from where the trendy congregate to congratulate themselves with expensive drinks”. In one sentence he sets his character apart and from the mainstream and pronounces his distaste for contemporary life. He had previously said,  “somewhere along the line I had lost my place in the political and social dance of the country” and this commentary permeates the narrative thus making it more than a crime novel.

Tolo seems very eager to involve herself in this case and takes him to a party where the people who lost out in the mall saga would be gathering. She introduces him under a false name and he ferrets around gleaning information. Things spiral from there on as more and more is uncovered. All the while he is visiting his wife in hospital and trying to keep things from her; a fascinating recipe for page turning.

Diale Tlholwe’s books are not easily available in bookshops but try and get hold of them; you will not be sorry. A good source is



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