A JIM NESBITT BOOK REVIEW
When you open one of Peter J. Earle’s novels, get ready to be swept up in a panoramic tour of South Africa after apartheid and Mandela.
This is the author’s home country and he captures it with an unblinking eye that takes in the land’s physical beauty as well as the squalor and decay of its cities and suburbs and the predators who roam its streets.
That’s the compelling backdrop of Earle’s latest book, TRIBES OF HILLBROW, which is equal parts a thriller, a mystery, a quest and a flashback to the bloody, post-colonial warfare of the mid-1960s in the Congo, where legendary mercenaries such as Mad Mike Hoare battled marauding Simbas eager to avenge a century of cruel Belgian rule.
Earle serves up this exotic mixture with a masterful hand, skillfully shifting between the quest of Megan Cameron, a young British woman searching for a grandfather she never knew she had, and Jake Malan, a stubborn and elderly South African pensioner and ex-merc who fought in those savage Congo wars.
Malan, diagnosed with cancer he assumes to be fatal, is bent on avenging the death of his best friend and next-door neighbor, Taffy. Malan found him dead at the head of the stairwell of his ransacked home shortly after a gang of Nigerian property hijackers started threatening him.
Soon, the Nigerians, based in a lawless section of Johannesburg known as Hillbrow, start to threaten him and a black woman and her two sons who have moved into the neighborhood. They have befriended Malan, who is surprised at how much affection he has for them.
This is a subtle point that Earle makes throughout the book — the struggle isn’t between black and white, it’s between good and evil. And in that sense, Earle’s story harkens an old Western tale of townsfolk setting aside their differences to battle the gun hands of a greedy cattle baron.
As is the case with all of Earle’s books, TRIBES OF HILLBROW takes you to a place you’ve never been, contains a great tale crackling with action shot through with empathy and introduces you to realistic characters struggling to live the life they’ve been dealt as best they can.
JIM NESBITT is the author of the series of hardboiled thrillers featuring P.I. Ed Earl Burch.