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Tuesday, 25 August 2015

‘The Serpentine Road’ by Paul Mendelson

Published by Constable,
2 April 2015.
ISBN: 978-1-4721-1947-6

Cape Town, South Africa. In 1994, young Captain Vaughn de Vries was coerced into being complicit in an atrocity. Now, in 2015, Colonel de Vries, one of the few remaining white police officers, is investigating the brutal murder of an Apartheid-era heiress. There seems no connection with the past which still haunts him, but his superiors are determined to kill the case...

This unusual PP takes us to the heart of modern South Africa, filtered through the prejudices of de Vries, who dislikes what the new regime has done to his job, refuses to remember African names and is openly contemptuous of women. A loner whose drinking verges on alcoholism, he’s the maverick in the SAPS, and determined not to be forced into taking the easy solution that’s been offered to him. At the same time, the reader sympathises with his actions in the past. His sergeant, Daniel February, is a sympathetic Lewis to de Vries’ Morse: married, conscientious, with ideas of his own to follow. The novel focuses on interviews and the interplay of characters, but there’s also a good deal of action, particularly as de Vries becomes the last man standing. The heat, corruption and inter-racial politics of urban South Africa are vividly drawn. The story is told in the present tense throughout.

An unusual PP with an interesting setting. It reads well as a stand-alone, but there is a previous Colonel de Vries novel, The Rule of Silence.
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

Paul Mendelson began writing at school, when he should have been doing other things, but writing and debating prizes followed. On leaving school, he ran a fringe theatre company, performing classic plays, his own new writing, and revue shows. From there, he moved to the National Theatre, first front-of-house, then as an assistant director and, finally, as a playwright. At the age of 21, his play, You’re Quite safe With Me was performed at the Cottesloe Theatre, making him then, the youngest writer performed at the National Theatre. A short and largely unsuccessful stint followed writing for television for shows like “The Bill” and “Moon and Son”.
Over the following years, Mendelson concentrated on non-fiction work, producing a dozen titles on mind-sports such as bridge, poker and casino games, as well as a weekly column on bridge for the Financial Times. He has also interviewed business leaders and embarked on travel writing for the FT, as well as contributing on diverse subjects to many publications, here in the UK, the US, Australia and South Africa. During this time, Mendelson also wrote Across the Veldt – a monologue about the political and cultural transitions in South Africa, and numerous short stories.
Having attempted several novels over the years on varying subjects, he returned to his first love, crime fiction and, after various twists and turns, emerged with The First Rule of Survival, snapped up by Constable & Robinson.

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine.

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