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Penguin SA

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Humour, history and tragedy intertwine in Karin Brynard’s complex and captivating Homeland, writes Margaret von Klemperer

Published in the Witness: 27/08/2018

Homeland
Karin Brynard (translated by Linde Dietrich)
Penguin Books

ORIGINALLY published in Afrikaans as Tuisland, Homeland comes with a weight of expectation. Karin Brynard’s previous crime novels (Weeping Waters and Our Fathers) were superb and her main character, Captain Albertus Beeslaar, is an endearing if grumpy hero.

At the opening of Homeland, Beeslaar has made the momentous decision to quit the police, move back to Johannesburg to be with Gerda and his infant daughter and take a better paid job with a security company. But his boss General Mogale, who is even grumpier than Beeslaar, has one final job for him in the Kalahari: allegations of police brutality are being made after an elder in the San community was found dead shortly after his release from custody, and there is about to be a big political rally in the area. Things are sensitive and need speedy handling, not least to silence the whispers of witchcraft that are spreading.

As always with Brynard, there are other strands to the story. In a smart lodge, one of the staff sees a German tourist interfering with a small, silent local child, and does the only thing she can think of to stop him – she hits him, hard. Afraid he is dead, she takes the child and goes on the run. And then the German’s body goes missing. Mogale dispatches Colonel Koeskoes Mentoor to deal with that case.

Next, the policeman Beeslaar is investigating for brutality gets himself killed. Mentoor, who had what she hoped was a secret affair with the dead man, is convinced she knows the identity of the killer, but Beeslaar is less sure. Theirs is not going to be a relationship made in heaven and Mentoor has no inhibitions about pulling rank and doesn’t take well to criticism.

Brynard is skilled at putting her finger on issues of importance. Here she plunges the reader into matters of race, land, history, crooked policemen and the curious anomaly that is the town of Orania. She highlights the divisions within the San community over land – which groups want it for what reasons – and their culture and its appropriation by both locals and foreigners for profit which seems unlikely to filter back to the community.

There is humour, tragedy and action in this complex and lengthy novel. Characters are properly fleshed out, and engage the readers’ sympathies, even when we can see their flaws. Brynard once again proves that her contribution to South African writing is the thinking person’s crime novel. Long may she continue to provide it.

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