“Defiantly alive…” Water Music by Margie Orford

I’ve decided I officially like crime fiction. I kept hearing about great crime writers and felt genuinely interested when I read synopses and blurbs – so I dived in. I read Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus (review here) and loved it. More please!

2014 Head of Zeus paperback cover (image: goodreads.com)

I heard about Water Music when publisher Head of Zeus announced their upcoming titles for 2014. I scanned the catalogue and it was the title that jumped out at me the most. Crime was on my radar, and I liked that it was set in South Africa – a country I’ve never been to and don’t know much about, but one that has featured in a couple of books I quite liked, and seemed intriguing. So different from Britain, a bit exotic, mysterious, and, well, gritty.

A lot of Water Music is gritty. Dr Clare Hart (the central character of five Margie Orford novels, including this one) is an expert of crimes committed against children and is called in to advise on a very young girl found naked and freezing in the woods; and then when a teenage girl goes missing. The little girl is malnourished and so pale she could hardly have seen daylight – she is wrapped in layers of mystery and questions, and she sets in motion a dramatic and trying week for Clare Hart.

The teenage girl, Rosa, is reported missing by her grandfather, with whom she lives, and Clare takes on the case out of her own concern and sympathy for both the girl and the grandfather. Her department is under threat and she is targeted for not being a police officer, only a civilian, getting involved in police business; but Clare is a specialist, an expert with sharp instincts and deep feeling for the persecuted victim.

Her own story comes slowly to light throughout the book, as does her relationship with an officer, Reidwaan Faizal, who is a fascinating, dark character. Early in the book she finds out that she is pregnant, and she battles this issue, alone, as she tries to discover the truth of what happened to these two poor girls.

I loved the twists and turns of this book, the truly unknowable nature of the next chapter. Orford surprised me on almost every page, with short sharp chapters driving the pace and building the tension. Clare is relentless is her pursuit of the truth, and unwaveringly brave in the face of danger as she delves deeper into the underside of Cape Town. As I read I could not guess what had happened, how this little girl had been left alone under some plastic, tethered to a tree; how Rosa went missing three weeks ago and no one has noticed until now. Who was really involved? Who knows more than they are telling? And what do they know? Why are they keeping secrets? My mind was spinning with questions and I read on compulsively.

This is the first Margie Orford novel I’ve read and I will definitely look into her previous novels. Her plotting is excellent, and her writing is both engaging, moving and atmospheric, conveying the feelings of the characters and the grim realities of the situations so vividly. I felt uncomfortable and scared with Clare, and desperate with her when she is grasping for clues and fighting to get to the hidden truths.

Read this book!


First published in South Africa in 2013 by Jonathan Ball Publishers, and in the UK by Head of Zeus on 27th February 2014. My copy was kindly provided by Head of Zeus for review.

A section of this review was printed in The Bookseller on 21st February 2014.

3 thoughts on ““Defiantly alive…” Water Music by Margie Orford”

  1. […] I’m quite new to crime fiction, so that was part of my reason for choosing this book, but also because it just jumped out as me as I scanned the Head of Zeus catalogue. Set in South Africa, it follows Dr Clare Hart as she investigates the discovery of a little girl left in the woods. The child is alive but starving, and so pale she seems never to have seen the sun. Her appearance eventually leads Clare to also investigate the disappearance of the teenage Rosa. She fights against the bureaucracy of Cape Town and the police force to follow every clue and lead, and to risk her own life in order to save Rosa’s. I read this book quickly and was completely absorbed in Clare’s world. I loved Water Music and was very pleased to find out that The Bookseller printed a section of my review as their ‘blog review of the week’ in a February 2014 issue. You can read my original review here. […]


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