Penguin Books is giving away one of four Christmas Book Hampers: for men, women, teenagers and children. The four categories contain the publisher’s pick of exciting titles, just in time for the festive season!
The books hamper for him contains More Fool Me by Stephen Fry, as well as books by Jeremy Clarkson and Clive Cussler. Books for her include The Keeper by Marguerite Poland and more books by Marian Keyes, Jojo Moyes and Sylvia Day.
To enter, visit the Penguin Books website and click on the Christmas stocking of your choice. You may enter a maximum of 10 times per category. The competition closes on Tuesday, 23 December, at 11:59 PM.
Expresso spoke to the Van de Ruit, director John Barker and producer Ross Garland about the newest film in the series. Van de Ruit wrote the screenplay for the movie, and has says giving his stratospherically successful book a new kind of life has been thrilling. The cast also spoke about what it was like working on the film, and even played a prank on their interviewer.
The brutal murder of a mother and her adopted daughter living on Huilwater, a Kalahari farm, opens a can of worms. Inspector Albertus Beeslaar, fresh from the city, is tasked with finding the people responsible for this heinous crime but answers aren’t easy to come by.
Read an excerpt from Weeping Waters, where an unsuspecting neighbour finds a scene nobody should ever have to witness: “Like animals. Both of them, just slaughtered. Blood. On everything. Everywhere.”
Read the excerpt:
* * * * * * * * *
The call came through just after two.
He was at his desk at the police station, having his lunch of vetkoek and mince. Washed down, as usual, with a mug of strong black coffee. Three sugars.
He was almost done when the phone rang.
One of the constables on duty in the charge office. “There’s been a murder,” the man gasped, “two dead. A farm killing. Woman and child. White. On Huil¬water farm, about forty kays out on the Upington road.” And then, “The caller’s still on the line. Would the Inspector like to speak to him?”
Inspector Albertus Markus Beeslaar shoved the vetkoek aside.
A man’s voice, shaky and hoarse. “Too late,” he kept repeating, “a madman … a devil …”
The voice broke off.
“Like animals. Both of them, just slaughtered. Blood. On everything. Every¬where.”
He said he was standing in it. Then the man began to sob, stammering about being too late.
It took some coaxing to get a name out of him. “Boet Pretorius,” he eventu¬ally answered. “From the farm next door.”
The child was barely four years old. “Four, just four,” he said, over and over again.
“Where’s the woman’s husband?” Beeslaar asked this several times.
“There is no fucking husband,” was the fierce reply. A foreman, yes, but he was nowhere to be found.
Where was he phoning from?
There was a long silence, as if the man had to think about it.
Then, “Good God, man! Get out of the house, now,” Beeslaar ordered. “Wait outside. I’m on my way.”
For a moment Beeslaar didn’t move. So much for a peaceful life on the plat¬teland, his dream of a quiet small-town post. He threw the vetkoek into his wastepaper basket and told the constable on duty to send more backup to Huil¬water. He rounded up two colleagues and got a car. The Citi Golf. The only one available in a carpool of two. No air con, a hundred and eighty thousand on the clock.
They squeezed in, ready to tackle the forty kilometres of dirt road.
Sergeant Pyl had to take the back, with Ghaap in the passenger seat. Beeslaar crammed his own two-metre frame behind the wheel. Cursing under his breath, as he did each time he got into the tiny car: the steering wheel too close to his knees, the seat too narrow, no legroom, his head against the roof, leaving him feeling hemmed in and pissed off. This afternoon was no exception. He was in a foul mood already, even before they hit the road that led to the murder scene.
But all that didn’t irritate him as much as the fact that he was still struggling to find his feet in this post: real city boy, ill at ease in a world of farmers and cattle and farm roads and sand and snakes and blazing-heat-without-air-con. He’d barely arrived, blissfully under the impression he was heading for a quiet job in a peaceful backwater, when the shit hit the fan and started flying in all directions.
He arrived right in the middle of an unprecedented wave of stock theft. And either he wasn’t a detective’s backside any more, or he was dealing with a super-sophisticated mafia. Because he could find neither hide nor hair of these crooks, no matter how hard he tried.
The farmers were at their wits’ end. And furious, because they were being nailed. Everyone wanted results, arrests – while he was having a hard time telling his arse from his elbow, let alone rounding up a cunning bunch of stock thieves.
And then, just a fortnight ago, two farm workers were brutally murdered on Vaalputs. They must have caught the thieves in the act. The remnants of a flock of sheep, some with throats cut, others with hock tendons slashed, had lain there, bleating and bleeding to death, all goddamn night. Till the farmer discov¬ered them the next morning and put them out of their misery. And only then found the bodies of the workers, the Jacobs brothers, underneath the carcasses, trampled to shreds by the panicked beasts.
And he, Albertus Markus Beeslaar, sat there like a damn fool. With everyone looking to him, the new guy with so many years of experience. Big Man from the Big City. Schooled by the cream of the crop of Johannesburg’s old Murder and Robbery Squad. But here he was now, blowing around like a lost fart. With not a clue about what to do next.
If only he had caught the thieves, the Huilwater woman and her child would still be alive to—
He narrowly dodged a pothole. Bumped his head, berated himself – stop brooding and focus on the road: the potholes were the size of chest freezers.
With half an ear, he listened to Sergeant Pyl behind him – the hyperactive one, who couldn’t keep his trap shut for a second, even if he had to shout to make himself heard above the din of gravel clattering against the chassis. There was lots of gossip, he said, about the single woman farming on Huilwater. An eccen¬tric artist from Johannesburg. And the Griqua girl she was adopting, and that weird Bushman farm manager of hers. Pyl’s voice was virtually drowned out as they rattled over a corrugated stretch of road, so that Beeslaar couldn’t always follow the thread.
Half an hour of shuffling, shaking and head-bumping. Pyl prattling on dog¬gedly from the back. Ghaap, his long, skinny body folded up like a stick insect on the seat next to him, was thankfully less talkative. Then they finally found the turn-off to Huilwater and stopped at the back door of the farmhouse.
Boet Pretorius was sitting on the back steps, his large figure hunched over. There was blood on his clothes. Stains on his knees and forearms. Even in his hair. There was vomit on his shirt, and a dark smear on the hand that was clutching a cigarette.
Around him a wordless gathering of men: farmers from the district, driven in from God knows where.
Who’d sent word? Beeslaar wondered fleetingly. Pretorius?
One was still hovering in the kitchen doorway, his face pale and frightened. Probably went in to satisfy a macabre curiosity, Beeslaar thought as he headed for the group.
“Beeslaar,” he introduced himself, “and Sergeants Pyl and Ghaap. How many of you have been inside?”
He got his answer in the form of downcast faces, hands fumbling with a hat or a pistol at the hip.
“Christ,” he muttered, and walked past them.
The man at the door quickly stood aside. “There’s no one left,” he told Bees¬laar, who took a moment to comprehend what the man was trying to say.
“From now on, you all stay clear of this house,” Beeslaar barked. “This is a murder scene, not a fucking freak show!” He swallowed back his anger and then tried again, more evenly, “Please see to it that nobody leaves this place before I’ve talked to every one of you! Understood?” He waited sternly until they assented. Then he turned and went inside the house. Over his shoulder he ordered Pyl to man the back door – no one, apart from the forensics team from Upington, was permitted – and Ghaap, meanwhile, should start taking statements and round up some officers to find the farm labourers.
It was a particularly gruesome scene. In twenty years with the South African Police Service, he’d not witnessed anything like this. He saw the child first. In the first bedroom. Lying on her side, in a pool of blood. He could see the blood was fresh – a few hours, at most.
The woman’s body was in a second bedroom. She was sitting on the floor, her back against a chair. Her arms hung loosely, hands relaxed, palms open to the ceiling. Like a ragdoll propped upright on a child’s bed. But without a head. Or rather, from where he was standing in the doorway, he couldn’t see one. And he didn’t want to get too close – he’d wait for the team from Forensics. Not that this was a pristine murder scene, exactly.
The two bedrooms and the passage were covered in bloody tracks from the farmers traipsing in and out. Beeslaar felt his blood pressure rise.
The forensics team from Upington turned out to be one bloke. “Sorry I’m so late,” he said, introducing himself as Hans Deetlefs. “Without my gps I’d never have found the place!” He looked pretty pleased with himself and his gps, this man with the fresh face and big specs. He was a short man, but clearly minus the accompanying syndrome. And he seemed smart. Already kitted out in his plas¬tic coveralls and shoes, bag of tricks in his left hand, camera hanging from his neck. “Welcome to the wild North West, Inspector,” he said, blinking his little eyes in a self-satisfied way. “I hear you’re all the way from Joburg!”
Beeslaar mumbled a response, in no mood for chitchat.
Cheerily, Hans Deetlefs unpacked his case and deftly set to work, pointing out a detail to Beeslaar every now and then. Such as the fact that the woman’s head was actually there. Quite simply, her throat had been cut so deeply that her head fell backwards into the hollow of the seat. Together, they inspected the chaos in the bedroom. The drawers had been pulled from the wardrobe and emptied onto the floor in a tangle of underwear, scattered items of jewellery and cosmetics, and the mattress half dragged from the bed. As if someone had been searching for something. A low bookshelf lay upended and several books were spattered with blood; this had apparently happened before the killing.
“She must have sat watching,” Hans happily declared. “Bet you a hundred bucks they fed her roofies before murdering her.” He blinked up at Beeslaar.
“I’m not a gambling man,” Beeslaar grunted.
The blood was everywhere: walls, floor, bed. The woman’s long summer dress, light blue, was stained black. And outside, the front stoep too was a mess, with three sheepdogs and a mongrel lying in pools of blood.
Deetlefs wasn’t much bothered by the fucked-up state of the murder scene. “Shit happens,” he said with an irritating grin as he blinked again. His words were still hanging in the air when more shit threatened: Sergeant Ghaap appear¬ing in the doorway without foot protection, glowing cigarette in hand.
“Inspector, the guys outside wanna know if you can … umm, how long it’s going to take. They want to go.”
Beeslaar began counting to ten, but didn’t even reach three. “Fuck off with that cigarette! And then go and tell that bunch outside: if they want to spend the night in the cells, they must just try and leave here!”
When Beeslaar was finally satisfied that he’d seen everything, he left Deetlefs to it and stepped outside for some fresh air. And to listen to Pretorius’s story.
But there was a commotion and more violence threatened.
The farm manager had arrived. Before Beeslaar could stop them, a group of
young farmers pulled the man roughly from his truck and onto the ground, ready to beat the hell out of him. And then shoot him. Ghaap, Pyl and a couple of their colleagues had to break it up.
Adam de Kok was his name. An interesting figure, the Bushman foreman that Ghaap had mentioned. He’d been in town all day – with the Huilwater house¬keeper, Mrs Beesvel – doing the weekly grocery shopping and collecting stuff from the farmers’ Co-op. Beeslaar took them aside, walked with them to the manager’s house some thirty metres from the main homestead. They settled on the back stoep, where Beeslaar spoke to them both. But they were both shocked, knew nothing – the poor woman could hardly talk, she was so distraught. She broke down, speaking in gasps between sobs, about “her little ones”, “the evil world”, “too late”, “bad people”. The evil world indeed, Beeslaar thought, as De Kok comforted her.
There was little point in pressing them further right now. De Kok said he would take Mrs Beesvel – Outanna, he called her – inside for a cup of sweet tea, while Beeslaar stayed on the stoep to finish the questioning. He had the rest of the workers brought to him for interviews. Same story from each one of them: “saw nothing”, “heard nothing”. All of them were clearly beside themselves. Two more had to be fetched from a distant camp where they’d been repairing fences. And apart from the fact that they were also clearly shaken, they too knew noth¬ing.
Then Beeslaar moved on to the waiting farmers. Starting with Boet Pretorius.
“Went into town this morning, just the usual, Co-op and bank. Quick burger at the Dune, left at about half past one. And on my way back …” He grimaced. “I’m on the farm next door, Karrikamma,” he said. And no, he hadn’t noticed any strange or unusual vehicles around here, or along the way.
“I just wanted to stop by, the house is so close to the road, you know, you can just quickly pop in.”
Seven o’clock, almost five hours later. Deetlefs had just given the green light for the bodies to be taken away. The ambulance guy, an unwashed fellow with wine on his breath, had a hard time loading them up. The closest available pathologist was in Postmasburg.
The yard was suddenly quiet. The farmers gone, the one-man team from Up¬ington gone. Ghaap and Pyl on their way back to the station with the ops guys.
Beeslaar was alone. Sitting on the back steps, where he’d found Boet Pretorius earlier that afternoon. Looking out over the yard, at the two giant blue gums shading the back door. A lane of white karees separated the manager’s house from the main house.
A big zinc dam stood at the front of the house, a windmill alongside, its pump
straining, screeching as it drew water, its blunt blades a metallic grey against the sky. Dusk was falling. The setting sun flared red in the fine dust that hovered over the yard.
Beeslaar felt slightly nauseous. Not just because of the bloodbath he’d wit¬nessed that afternoon. It was the water. He’d been in this godforsaken place for two months, but still couldn’t get used to the brackish water, water that turned soap to scum and left chalky limescale rings in every glass. His body yearned for the stale swimming-pool flavour of Joburg tap water.
He tried putting Joburg out of his mind. It was a different life. He was here now. On this farm, in this heat.
Sweating like a pig. And thirsty, always thirsty.
But he also knew that now, sitting here, this thirst was the very least of his problems.
The novel is set in Southern Africa, in a remote town which the powers-that-be have conveniently neglected. Alois, the book’s eponymous thief, is a young man trying to scratch out a living. His town is one in which many people, and a number of hardy hens, are trying to scratch out a living.
In the excerpt, Alois is out stealing chickens. He has learned how to do this the hard way. He says there is always a manual for the easy things that you could really figure out yourself. For the difficult and dangerous things, you are on your own.
Read the excerpt:
Alois smelt the intruders before he saw them–or rather, he smelt their anger first. He knew the smell of anger well. He had learned to smell it coming, and to duck and run. The chickens knew too; they were restless, wings brushing against the wire that caged them in. They knew something was wrong, and yet it was not him they smelt. He had been here many times before. Even though tonight his bag was lighter than it should have been, Alois pulled himself back up into the branches and waited.
On average, Alois stole five to ten chickens per night. Five was a good take, easily achieved: ten, and his spirits soared. He kept his operation tight, spacing each grab, with no more than two chickens per house. Any more than two and he figured he might as well be running bare-arsed down the road and in the front door of police headquarters. No bird will stay quiet forever while its sisters disappear head first into a flour sack. Solidarity amongst chickens had been the death knell of many a careless thief.
Congratulations are in order! That was the message, loud and clear, at Cape Town’s popular literary spot, The Book Lounge, last Monday night. It was bustling once again with readers eager to hear Andrew Brown and Karin Brynard discuss the latter’s book Weeping Waters. This book, which was written in Afrikaans and published in 2009 as Plaasmoord, was translated by Isobel Dixon and Maya Fowler.
Brown said, “There’s a lot that is fresh and new in terms of South African crime fiction writing, both in the author’s handling of the issues and in her style.” He said that hers is an important new voice in the local crime fiction writing scene.
Brown asked Brynard about the challenges of writing violence and the taboos she encountered around depicting the grisly death of a child. Despite the fiendish and brutal nature of Weeping Waters, this was one point when the tears of mirth flowed: “Writing violence is a bit like writing sex,” she said. “I really struggle to write a steamy scene,” she confessed. Brown noticed that sex-writing had been avoided, “They were in the pool, then their clothes were coming off … and then they were having drinks afterwards?”
“Hmmmm … that part was a bit more explicit in the Afrikaans version,” she said, giggling. “Some Afrikaans words just don’t translate.” Language aside, Brynard said, “It’s difficult to get the pitch right for a good sex scene. You can go to the one side and it becomes purple-ish; on the other hand it’s too pinkish. To keep it right is very difficult. In terms of very gory violence, the story is good enough to carry it. It is justified.”
Brown concurred that the level of violence and gore had to serve the narrative and affirmed that this was a mark of Brynard’s skill. He said: “I don’t have a problem with lots of violence. If you read the violence in there, the scalping and the blood, the rivers and the stealing of bodies and body parts. It is so excellently written.” He then turned the conversation to the nature of the book in English as opposed to the original Afrikaans.
Brynard reflected on the nature of language in Postmasberg, where she grew up. “So much of it is a soundtrack that contains a whole history and the colour and tonality of the landscape of the book. If I think of the Karoo and the Northern Cape, looking at the people who live on the farms and name their farms, it is a very Afrikaans environment. Having grown up in a very typical Afrikaner home, very conservative, very far-removed from anything English, to us, the English were aliens.” Brown assured her that the English are, indeed, that.
Brynard referred to her AA Fellowship meetings, and the challenges of being in a predominantly English environment. “To really express myself about something I feel deeply about, I can’t do it in English. The moment I switch to English, it feels fake. Now, to see these earthy characters in the book, especially the Griquas, speaking English…”
Brown said that Weeping Waters works incredibly well in English. He wondered aloud whether it worked better in Afrikaans. Brynard said, “It’s hard to tell… I’m not an objective observer any longer.”
An animated question and answer session wrapped up a fabulous evening and many queued to have their books signed and to shake the author’s hand afterwards.
Poland said the story first occurred to her when she was just 14 years old, inspired by a schoolmate who gave a talk about being the daughter of a lighthouse keeper: “It was an absolutely riveting talk, not because of what she did, but the sense of isolation and desolation that came through. It wasn’t romantic, it was just so different.”
The author says the story stayed with her for many years before she decided to write The Keeper.
“It was not writing about a place as much as a state of mind,” she says. “I wanted to get into what would it be like to be that isolated.”
The extract comes from the start of the novel, when lighthouse keeper Cecil Beukes and his wife Maisie get a report that another keeper, Hannes, has fallen and needs to be rescued.
The bad weather – “white horses right to the horizon” – poses a challenge, but more intriguing is what could have made such a careful man fall: “There were two commandments known to all of them: The light must not go out. The keeper must not fall.”
Read the excerpt:
* * * * *
When the call came, Maisie Beukes was alone in the keeper’s quarters.
Cecil had already gone on duty even though it was only five o’clock.
The call, she knew, would be from the Signal Office in the port. It should
have been no different from any other routine call – to relay messages, to list
supplies needed, to send news, to report on the light. The sole link with the
outside world. Island to shore, lighthouse to lighthouse through the medium
of the signalman’s radio phone. One lighthouse on its barren, bird-raddled
plateau – the most forlorn in the world – the other at the edge of a city.
That afternoon, a black southeaster blowing, the static was intense. It was
difficult to make out the words. Even after years of coaxing the radio-telephone
and learning to interpret its sudden startling squeals and plummets – sea
echoes, wind shear – Maisie could decipher little.
‘Hello? Can you hear me?’ shouted the signalman.
‘On and off!’ she yelled.
‘There’s been an accident in the lighthouse on the island. They need a
The static crackled again. Maisie turned towards the window to look out at
the bay as if, in doing so, she could make the distance smaller, gaze the voice
into existence at the distant port. It was no day for a boat to be out. There were
white horses right to the horizon.
‘Who needs the doctor?’
‘Mr Harker,’ shouted the signalman. ‘He fell down the tower.’
‘Oh my God! Is he alive?’
‘Yes. But something’s broken. I can’t be sure.’ His voice swooped and
darted. ‘The guano headman called and reported it.’
‘You must send the tug and a doctor. I’ll get hold of a relief keeper to
‘The weather’s terrible,’ the signalman said dubiously. ‘I don’t think the
Port Captain will let anyone sail. And anyway, it’s nearly dark.’
Maisie did not contradict him. She said, ‘Phone again in an hour.’
‘Goed. Dankie, mevrou Beukes.’ And he was gone.
Maisie glanced out again at the far curve of the bay, the turbulent sea, the
distant dune-fields. On impulse she called the Port Captain herself from the
house telephone in her dining room.
‘Bad weather,’ he said.
‘Who is it?’
‘The Senior Lighthouse Inspector, Hannes Harker.’
‘It’s dangerous to try and land a man in the dark. The weather will calm down
by tomorrow. Then we can make a decision.’
Maisie bristled. ‘He’s a lighthouse keeper, for God’s sake. If your tug was
going down he’d walk on water to help you.’ She wiped her face with the back
of her hand and drew a deep breath, calming herself.
Only lighthouse people knew; their code was unimpeachable.
‘Has anyone got hold of the doctor?’ the Port Captain asked.
‘I phoned you first.’
‘Jis!’ he muttered under his breath. ‘This could be a balls-up.’
‘OK, Mrs Beukes, listen. I’ll phone the doc and you find a relief keeper and
I’ll come back to you.’
‘Be quick,’ said Maisie.
Maisie went to the back door and called across the yard. The wind was
strong enough to whip the white-bleached skin of broken shells from the
A faint voice from the shed. ‘What is it, lovey?’
‘Come quickly.’ She peered out. ‘Cecil? I can’t leave in case the phone rings.’
Maisie went back into the kitchen and dragged the old kettle on to the
hotplate of the coal stove. She pulled the tray across the counter, took the
knitted cosy off the pot and emptied the cold tea leaves into the sink.
There were two commandments known to all of them:
The light must not go out.
The keeper must not fall.
Hannes – so competent, so careful, so assured.
Something had distracted him. Or someone.
And who could possibly distract him on that island?
Maisie wiped her face again. A chill ran through her and she twitched her
shoulders and leaned more firmly against the rail of the old coal stove.
– Don’t be ridiculous, woman. She almost spoke aloud.
She made the tea and set two cups. She carried the tray through to the
lounge, a small waddle in her step, side to side, her slippers slapping quietly
on the wooden floor. The back door opened and her husband, Cecil, called
from the porch. ‘What’s the matter, lovey? Are you hoping for a cup of tea?’
He came in, tugging down the edges of his old green jersey, his nose
purple-veined from the wind outside, his knees pinched by the cold above his
long grey socks. He looked at her. ‘Maisie? What’s the trouble?’
‘Hannes fell down the tower. He’s broken something. He must be in dreadful
pain. That fellow from the signal room phoned. I got hold of the Port
Captain and told him to send a tug.’
‘You should have asked me to do it.’ Cecil was admonishing. ‘What’s he
going to think, being bossed by a woman?’
‘Don’t you talk nonsense, Cecil,’ retorted Maisie, the flush deep on her
neck, her chin bobbing. ‘It’s Hannes, for God’s sake.’
‘Of course, lovey,’ Cecil said. ‘Sorry I spoke.’
‘We have to find a relief at once while they raise the doctor. They’ll call
again soon so we must hurry.’
‘Ockie will have to take over there for a while,’ said Cecil. ‘He’s not going
to like it.’
‘You’ll get exhausted here by yourself,’ objected Maisie. ‘Think about your
heart, Cecil, and don’t be foolish. Can’t we phone Seal Point?’
‘Too far,’ he said laconically. ‘It’s Ockie or me. We can’t leave the light.’
Maisie said nothing. She knew the first rule just as well as he.
Cecil went away to the single quarters to speak to his assistant. Maisie did
not follow him to hear Ockie grumble, sucking at his teeth and pulling at his
great ear and glowering. She could hardly blame him. No one ever wanted
such an exile. Even for a week.
For him, a posting to the island was always going home.
When Cecil returned he said, ‘Ockie’s packing and then I’ll run him down
to the harbour.’ He came and sat beside her on the settee, waiting: two old
people, grey-headed, the steam from their cups drifting between them.
Then the telephone rang.
It was the Port Captain. ‘We’ll be leaving in an hour,’ he said.
‘My husband will bring the relief keeper down now,’ said Maisie.
‘The doc’s on his way.’
‘Good man,’ said Maisie as she put down the receiver.
‘Of course I’m a good man.’ Cecil reached for her hand. ‘Even your mother
Maisie – comforted – half laughed. ‘You really are a good man,’ she said.
‘No matter all the other things my mother said!’ And she wiped her eyes.
Oh, Hannes. Not another blow.
She rested the side of her head against Cecil’s shoulder. Then they turned
simultaneously and in silence to peer through the salt-rimed glass at the
darkening sea in the bay and the waves breaking as far as the horizon. The
island lies five miles offshore – south-west from the densely wooded cape
but thirty-one miles from port. Between it and the mainland is a channel,
taupe green, cobalt blue. Sometimes that blue is all of the sky and sea,
indivisible. And sometimes the heat bounces off the island rocks, an aura
of fire, and the waves glitter as if scattered with mica chips. Sometimes
the air is a tumult of gannets – a rising tide of wingbeats – and sometimes
it is so still that the piping of a land-bird blown off course can be heard
above the breathing of the sea. But when the southeaster blows, the wind
whips the water to a saltgrey bile. Even its fish must flee the turbulence.
Even the sharks. It is on those days that boats never venture near.
Nothing comes except the wind – a great baleful beast.