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