Just a Dead Man by Margaret von KlempererartSMart
Caroline Smart: Compelling story about an artist who turns amateur detective to save her friend from what she believes is an untrue accusation of murder.
Margaret von Klemperer is a well-known figure in Pietermaritzburg circles. She was arts editor of the Witness newspaper for 16 years until she retired from this position and became the newspaper’s books editor. Born in Britain, she has lived in Pietermaritzburg with her respected attorney husband, Julian, for more than 40 years. They have two adult children and two dogs.
Drawing on her experiences of motherhood, her association with the legal world and her knowledge of the visual arts, she decided to set about writing a novel. Just a Dead Man is the compelling story about Laura Marsh, a divorced single mother challenged with the process of bringing up two teenage sons. Von Klemperer is a master of irony and one of the most amusing sections of the book is when Laura loses her patience and lets fly at her ex-husband’s new wife (Mrs Tits, as one of her sons call her) over the telephone!
Laura is an artist whose normally unstressed world gets turned upside down when her friend and fellow artist, Daniel Moyo, pops in for a visit. During the afternoon, he offers to take her ancient Labrador, Grumpy, for a walk up to the nearby plantation.
He returns in a panic, having discovered a dead body where the path leads off into the wooded area. A Zimbabwean refugee, he carries certain baggage which makes him reluctant to involve the police. However, Laura insists and what follows is a compelling tale that starts with the discovery of the identity of the body aided by a photograph the dead man was carrying that carried the simple caption “SS Mendi”.
This is followed by the police’s investigation into a possible association with Daniel who was planning to produce an exhibition based on this maritime disaster in 1917 where over 600 black troops perished. However, this process leads to a more sinister situation which involves a mining project on the Wild Coast and implicates some highly powerful and dangerous people.
Moving through numerous court appearances, jail visits and personal trauma - not to mention brushes with xenophobia and racism, Laura continues her persistent battle to prove that her friend has been unjustly accused of murder. Heading the investigation team are two detectives – one who is distinctly aggressive and the other who is … well, a little more understanding.
Von Klemperer is a highly skilled writer who has the capacity to hit the nail on the head description-wise. This allows the reader to envisage Laura’s normally-unruffled home environment as well as the starkness of the jails and impersonal court rooms. The cover says it all – a brooding black and white image that looks down a long path surrounded by trees, their shadows hinting that secrets lurk not far off.
Taking Just a Dead Man as a yardstick, I look forward to more novels from Margaret von Klemperer. In the meantime, Just a Dead Man would also make a good movie script!
Just a Dead Man is published in paperback by Jacana Media and is available at leading bookstores. ISBN: 978-1-4314-0504-6 or E-book ISBN: d-PDF ISBN 978-1-4314-0505-3 ePUB ISBN 978-1-4314-0506-0 mobi file ISBN 978-1-4314-0507-7.
© Caroline Smart
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