I have a kindle that I use at night when I can’t sleep. It creates a different reading experience than that of a physical copy but I’ve greatly enjoyed some of my nocturnal books. The great thing about kindle is that it encourages me to try out new authors and crime sub-genres I’m less familiar with. No Ordinary Killing by Jeff Dawson is set in 1899 South Africa, during the Boer War. Conflict, of course, is a perfect time, when scores are being settled on a wider scale, for crimes of a different nature to be perpetrated. Dawson has produced a strong thriller with something to say about how we wage our battles.
Ingo Finch is a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps who is called to a body discovered in Cape Town who turns out to be one of his colleagues. Convinced that the explanation for the murderer is too pat, he sets out to discover the background to the killing but is soon called into battle. Meanwhile, Mbutu Kefaleze is on the run across the Karoo with a group of villagers pursued by soldiers. They meet a mute woman and her young daughter who tell of the slaughter of their settlement by ‘devil soldiers’, men who faces were covered by strange masks.
The two storylines are equally strong and each with their own mystery and I was drawn into both scenarios. Finch meets Annie Jones, an Australian nurse and a female point of is particularly needed, I think, in a setting which is dominated by men. Annie’s back story is interesting and a foreshadow of many of the nurses of the Great War who left families to gain freedom and employment in the medical corps.
Dawson’s writing style is an intriguing mix of John Buchan style adventuring and well researched period detail. He creates a South Africa full of superstition, mistrust and political intrigue. Images of slaughter and bloodshed are never far away which contrasts with the clear class tensions in the British Empire and superior attitudes towards the indigenous population. I enjoyed the book and it kept me turning the pages (or rather swiping the kindle screen) until the end. A very strong debut.