DEAD-END ROAD - Richard Kunzmann
DEAD-END ROAD is third novel Detective Harry Mason novel from South African author Richard Kunzmann - the earlier books are BLOODY HARVESTS and SALAMANDER COTTON. It was the first of this series that I've read, and I'm not sure that was necessarily a wise move.
It's been a couple of years since Harry's last outing and since then he has joined the elite Serious and Violent Crimes unit. They have been assigned to the investigation of the slaying of a minor politician and his family in a township west of Johannesburg. Unsolvable, until a tip sends the unit in pursuit of a vigilante group known as the Guardians headed by two notoriously violent brothers. Things get personally bad for Harry when he is shot during a dawn raid on a remote village in pursuit of the gang.
Part of the reason I picked up this book out of order was for a group read on a discussion list, and one of the participants in that discussion had read the earlier books - which was just as well, as this book didn't seem to work as a stand-alone. Harry, I'm told is a great central character, but as he was shot very early on in this book and didn't really make much of a return appearance he was very hard to assess. Perhaps it was this act that made the book seem to lack purpose or a single focus, but for much of the action I had absolutely and utterly no idea what was going on, who was who and what the whole point was. I actually had to read the blurb to remind myself what this investigation was supposedly all about as cameo appearances from a range of characters who appeared to have no context whatsoever kept coming and going and my grip on the whole thing got fuzzier and fuzzier.
Luckily I've now got the 2 earlier books in the series so I'll pick them up when I get a chance and see if the problem was just this book (which I suspect may have been the case). And the problem with this book could very well have been me - perhaps I wasn't working hard enough, having said that, I'm not sure I want to raise a sweat just to read a book.
Detective Harry Mason has rejoined the South African Police Service after a two-year leave of absence, and moved over to the specialised Serious and Violent Crimes unit, headed by the tough and fiery veteran commander Superintendent Carl 'Blackie' Swarts. Soon afterwards, Harry is assigned to investigate the slaying of a minor politician and his family, in a township west of Johannesburg. The case, at first seemingly unsolvable, is abruptly saved by an enigmatic grassroots anarchist whom Harry befriended during the apartheid riots of the '80s, and soon the SVC is hot on the heels of one of the country's most secretive and violent vigilante groups, known as 'The Guardians', headed up by two brothers whose brutality is legendary amongst the poor inhabitants of Johannesburg's squatter camps.
As the investigation slices away at the layers of secrecy surrounding this group, other secrets surface - truths that ultimately pose a threat to Harry's unit, and to the city at large. When Harry is abruptly gunned down by unseen assassins during a dawn raid on a remote village, and a bomb is detonated in the judicial heartland of Johannesburg, his former police partner and long-time friend, Detective Jacob Tshabalala, is forced to take matters into his own hands, and expose a splinter faction of vigilantes operating within the police service itself - a faction whose connections stretch all the way into parliament itself.