Random Violence (Jade de Jong #1), by Jassy Mackenzie

Four stars (of five)

Having recently stumbled on Mackenzie’s work, I was drawn to both the setting and the plot idea; a police procedural set in the new Johannesburg. Jade de Jong returns to South Africa after a decade’s hiatus, armed with her P.I. license and a desire to confront the ghosts of her father’s death. When de Jong is contacted by Superintendent David Patel, she’s intrigued to learn about how she can help, as they forged a strong relationship while Patel served as Commissioner de Jong’s Number Two. Everyone’s aware that the prosperous whites in Johannesburg live in gated communities, offering the symbolic separation from those they long oppressed. These gates are often the scene of car-jackings, where tempers flare and the racially-stigmatised city sees its greatest downfall. When Annette Botha is found murdered at her gate, de Jong works with Patel to determine who might have been behind this heinous act and what caused the escalation. Could her ex-husband be seeking revenge or could she be a victim of a robber who wanted more than just a car? Digging deeper into past cases with similar outcomes, de Jong stumbles upon a pattern that may help bring justice to the mess and a cash-related motive that stems much deeper than felons. She must also struggle as a dangerous man is released from prison, his crimes so heinous that de Jong cannot stomach the possibility that he might be free to mingle with the masses. While that unsettles her, de Jong learns more about her father’s death, potentially a murder, with the guilty party within her grasp. Mackenzie explodes onto the scene and leaves readers wanting more in this social commentary of life in the post-apartheid streets of Johannesburg.

Mackenzie drew me in from the start and never let me go until I finished. My only previous experience with South Africa as a setting and political platform within a novel was with Bryce Courtenay’s early work. Here, Mackenzie surrounds the reader with a city (and country) that has shed its ugly skin, but is still unable to fit into the new narrative it wishes to profess. Race violence is rampant, the police is still seen as biased, and crime keeps citizens in a state of constant fear. Jade de Jong leads the reader through these alleyways and tries to navigate away from the apartheid past to show that Johannesburg has much to offer the world and its own citizens, and that crime will no longer engulf a country that has seen its share of inequality. If this is only the beginning, I am determined to see where Mackenzie takes things from here.

Kudos, Madam Mackenzie for your thoughtful beginning and I hope that the rest of the series forces me to think just as much.