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THE HOUR OF THE JACKAL
by Bernhard Jaumann and John Brownjohn, trans.
John Beaufoy, August 2011
267 pages
16.99 GBP
ISBN: 1906780420


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In the peaceful evening of a hot summer's day in Windhoek, Namibia, a white man is watering his garden. Suddenly there is the sound of gunfire, the hose slips from his hand and he falls dead. Clemencia Garises, the investigating detective, soon finds out that the murdered man had been a member of a former South African organization called the Civil Co-operation Bureau (CCB), whose aim is to use violence against anti-apartheid activists. A day or so later another former member of the CCB is found murdered. Clemencia establishes that both men, together with three others, had been suspects in the assassination, twenty years ago, of a prominent member of SWAPO, an anti-Apartheid organization, though there had been insufficient proof at the time to convict any of them. Clemencia is now convinced that the lives of the other three are in danger and the scene is set for an ingenious and absorbing political thriller, seen through the opposing points of view of the assassin and the police.

Clemencia is lively and sympathetic, committed to the task of protecting the lives of people she despises. Unfortunately, her investigative team contains only one man she can trust, the others being lazy, envious of her rank and - in the case of one - racist. As a result, she is frequently obliged to act alone in pursuit of the truth – something she does without fear or favour until she brings her investigation to a successful conclusion. There is a gentler side to her, as well, brought out through the medium of her support for her extended family, though she does insist on her privacy to the extent of monopolising one room of a two-roomed house! Some of these ‘township' scenes, particularly those containing her aunts Matilda and Selma, contain a comic element that provides some relief from the main themes of murder and pursuit. Also well portrayed are the other two main characters - the chief of police and a retired judge – neither of whom, it seems, can be completely trusted.

The disclosure of the murderer's identity, when it comes, is well done and the motives behind the crime are believable. However, once that has been revealed the novel slows down to some extent and the attempt at pathos as Clemencia visits the grave of the SWAPO man assassinated years before is not altogether successful. What is successful throughout is the evocation of life in Namibia where racism still lies just below the surface – a white doctor automatically assumes that Clemencia will be incompetent - and where the professional life of a woman is particularly difficult. Jaumann also manages to convey a feeling for the nature of the land itself and the violent storm that accompanies the revelation of the murderer's identity is very effective.

§ Arnold Taylor is a retired Examinations Board Officer, amateur writer and even more amateur bridge player.

Reviewed by Arnold Taylor, November 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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