Sunday, October 22

Bloody Harvests by Richard Kunzmann

Review by Gloria Feit

For the most part, the first several chapters of Bloody Harvests depict seemingly unrelated scenes, scenes of violence and terror taking place in and around Johannesburg, South Africa.   It is shown as a world where superstition plays a big role in the lives of the Zulu, Zhosa, Yoruba and other tribesmen who live there.  But the horrors which are committed are rooted firmly in the 'real' world.


The body of a young black child, a girl of perhaps 5 years of age, has been found, mutilated, with organs removed and her throat slit.  Assigned to the investigation are D.I. Harry Mason and his partner, Jacob Tshabalah, both men haunted by their past histories dating back to their respective childhoods with which they are unable to come to terms.  The murder is thought to be a muti ritual, and the deeply superstitious Africans are terrified of omens and witchcraft seemingly at play.  One asks, rhetorically, "How long does a curse endure?'    [Muti killings, more commonly known as medicine murder, involve the murder of someone in order to excise body parts for incorporation as ingredients into medicine.]  These are dangerous times in the city – eleven fatal shootings in the space of just a few days, kidnapping of young children, a huge drug bust made by the police perhaps triggering reactions among the criminal underworld.  And Harry, a white man, must try to understand the occultism and belief in witches that play such a large role.  As he is told: "Occultism is about the irrational.   What you haven't taken into account is that no witch doctor would risk exposing himself like this.  They prefer working in the dark, manipulating people from the shadows."  Of the man the police seek, the author says "He brought them hope just as much as he brought them fear, two strong emotions that can inspire people when he needs them most."  Jacob tells Harry, "My people have witnessed things that you whites don't understand – or don't want to understand.  You still think our culture is primitive, that our beliefs are stupid, but you know…maybe Africa is just different."


This is a dense and dark novel, filled with intensity, complex characterizations, and rich in sense of place of this fascinating culture and country.  It is a very good read, and is recommended.


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