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Tuesday 27 December 2016

‘The Monster’s Daughter’ by Michelle Pretorius

Published by Melville House UK,
21 July 2016.
ISBN: 978-1-61219-538-4 (HB)

A century ago, in South Africa, a little girl was rescued from an experiment conducted by a doctor at a British concentration camp on Boer prisoners. Now, a disgraced police constable is reassigned to a quiet township, where she discovers the body of a young woman, burned beyond recognition. The crime will lead her into the story of her country’s violent past... which includes her father, a high-ranking police official under the apartheid regime.

The ‘author quotes’ on this novel are both from Audrey Niffenegger, and you can see why: like The Time Traveller’s Wife, this story moves from head to head, and from present to past. It begins with introducing Constable Alet Berg, a bolshie high-flyer who made it into the elite Special Task Force before being demoted for an affair with her superior, Theo – a highly-charged relationship which has sparks flying later in the book. Now, she’s in the town of Unie, filled with white farmers who resent the ANC and their new black rulers. After the finding of the body, we return to the past, and see the story of the child Anna, made homeless by British reprisals against the Boers, abused in the concentration camp, and then experimented on – it will be some time through the story before we find out what exactly was done. The narrative then moves between present and past, taking us through the history of the black struggle for freedom in South Africa, and the part played in it by the key individuals in the story: Anna’s child, Tessa, and her half-brother Philip, who becomes a lawyer; Tessa’s foster-brother, Jakob, a freedom-fighter; Tessa’s obsessive fellow camp-survivor, Ben, and his young military underling, Adriaan Berg – Alet’s father. The country and the events are vividly described, and Alet’s impulsive behaviour balances the modern sections between PP and PI as she goes off-line again. I found the background really interesting, and the modern plot was well worked-out – it was satisfying gradually fitting the pieces together between past and present, and the novel ended with a nail-biting finale.

A compellingly-written cross between a detective novel, science fantasy, and a history of the last century in South Africa. Recommended.
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

Michelle Pretorius was born and raised in South Africa. Michelle received a B.A. at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein. She has lived in London, New York, and the Midwest and holds an MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia College Chicago. She is currently a doctoral student in creative writing at Ohio University.

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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