Margie Orford lists, among many other activities, that she does Advocacy work for a Rape Crisis group in South Africa, so it's not very surprising LIKE CLOCKWORK looks very closely at the horrific consequences of rape and extreme violence against women. Because of that there's nothing particularly easy about reading this book, but it definitely fulfils one of my major preferences in crime fiction - which is to inform the reader. No matter how uncomfortable that information can sometimes be.
Dr Clare Hart is a police profiler who lives on Cape Town's Seapoint promenade, so the discovery of a young girl's body at that location has a very close, discomforting feel for her. There's something very brutal about the way that this girl died, and something oddly ritualistic about the way that the body was disposed of. The discovery of more young girls - all very similar in appearance - make for the sobering realisation that there is a serial sex killer in Cape Town. A city that's not unused to violence and, in particular sexual violence, as Clare and her twin sister are all too aware.
One of LIKE CLOCKWORK's strengths is the glimpse that the reader is given of the living victim - in this case Clare's sister and a young victim of gang rape and violence that Clare steps in to save. The other strength is the strong characters. Clare Hart is an interesting woman - dour, somewhat humourless, more than a little obsessive, she's working on a documentary set in Africa, but she also freelances as a police profiler (although there's not a lot of detail as to how she got that job or what her background is). The main police character - Riedwaan Faizal has enough twists on the standard scruffy, lone wolf policeman to make him just that little bit unexpected. He's a Muslim, alcoholic, dissolute, and a loner. Clare and Riedwaan share a good working relationship (which seems to be about the only one that they each have), as well as a somewhat uninspiring sexual relationship. As unappealing as they both would seem, they were both great characters - real, imperfect and quite human. There is, however, some sort of backstory between these two which was hinted at, but not really fleshed out in this book. But it is Clare and Riedwaan who carry the interest in the book, supported well by a cast of supporting characters including the state pathologist; the nasty brother of one of the victim's and the refugee chef's assistant in a sushi restaurant. As does the glimpses of Cape Town. A beautiful place, with seafront views and a comfortable lifestyle, where a dangerous killer is disposing of his victims. A modern city entertainment area, full of trendy bars and partying people, side by side with sexual exploitation and sleaze.
The weaker side of the book is the plot, which is a little disjointed. Perhaps the author has understandably tried to build in as many examples of the violence and exploitation experienced by women in particular. There's absolutely no doubt that these women's stories (including that of Clare's sister) are told gently and respectfully - there's no voyeuristic or sensationalist descriptions of appalling violence here, but, whilst that is happening the focus (and tension) of a serial killer stalking young women dissipates. Which leads to a final flurry of activity to expose him and save a young girl before it's too late.
Despite those plot inconsistencies, LIKE CLOCKWORK really gives the reader a feeling for Clare and Riedwaan's Cape Town - from it's physical beauty through to the gang violence that plagues the society. It also gives the reader glimpses into the diverse society that exists in South Africa. It certainly tempted me enough to order other books by this author.