Something unspeakable happens on a lonely stretch of forest road. A man flees from the scene, terrified of pursuit, unable to confide what he has seen. Will the police unravel the mystery before the only witness is silenced?
The latest Dice Modise mystery is soundly built on a classic plot device, but plot isn’t what’s so special about Peter’s work.
Why do reviewers of crime focus on plot? If they ever did Eng Lit at school, they would have been firmly told NOT to tell the story. It’s how, not what that’s interesting. If I’m looking for a new author, it’s not plot that prompts me to Buy with One Click, but setting and character. For me, it’s only when a story is the product of its setting and its characters that it has a chance of being memorable.
The dark deeds that confront the honest and amiable Dice are not crimes that are likely to surface in Midsomer or Kingsmarkham. He works out of Maun in Botswana, gateway to the Okavango delta, where times are always hard but become harder still when the rains fail. The poverty and politics of the region have forced his Zimbabwean girlfriend Joy to work in Botswana without a passport. When she disappears the emotional impact of this new plot-line seems at first to push the official story to the side-lines. Threatened by robbers, exploited and abandoned by people-smugglers, attacked in her hospital bed, Joy’s fate plunges Dice into a terrible dilemma. How can he search for a woman who does not legally exist? But eventually the plots will converge, leaving the reader to ponder the relative evils of sinister medicine and recreational drugs
Peter knows his stuff. The Maun police operate on half a shoestring. Scenery and wildlife bring a sprinkling of tourist wealth and wary relations between blacks and even the best of the whites. Despite AIDS, some families keep going. This isn’t Mma Ramotswe’s over-sweetened Botswana, but it’s not poverty-porn either. What this series reminds us of is what the business of the law should really be: to allow modestly good people to do the best for themselves without fear of others. Dice and Joy don’t ask for much. To raise his son Lebo and take care of the boy’s great-grandmother. A picnic on Sundays.
Plot keeps the story moving, but what makes me look forward to the next chapter of Dice’s career is the promise of further glimpses into a world that relatively affluent westerners like me should know more about. Botswana is firmly on my bucket list. I wouldn’t even stop for a half in Midsomer.