Review of Hour of Darkness
by Jennifer Crocker
Its Earth Hour, and the green belt of the deep southern suburbs of Cape Town has gone dark but all is not well within a luxury, gated villa.
A young mother and her baby are kidnapped and two of her children left behind. Det Persy Jonas is called to the scene.
From the very beginning of this brilliantly crafted novel, contradictions and nuances are finetuned by the author.
Jonas is traumatised by a previous case.
She is also living near a vlei where a young hippo has gone missing.
She is having an affair with one of her colleagues too and is not terribly happy at the police station where she finds herself.
And on the night when the caring middle-class and businesses turn off their lights to show solidarity with our groaning planet, there are others afoot.
A group of graffiti artists are on a mission to put up a spectacular piece of work that will take on the local hero of graffiti in the city.
Snuggled in the lowlands of Noordhoek and Kommetjie, psychologist Marge Labuschagne is having a rough time with her son and daughter-in-law who are trying to persuade her to change her whole way of life.
So, it’s a relief when she gets a call from her friend to go to save a leopard toad.
I mention this fact not to spoil the story but to highlight how fluidly Rowe moves from the downright terrifying to the totally ludicrous. And then she brings it all together.
Who has kidnapped the young mother and where is she?
In the descriptions of her abduction lie a brilliant exposition of the terror of crime victims. You won’t be able to put the book down in these sections, or indeed for much of the book. Hour of Darkness looks at the uneasy truce we have with the place we live, the contrasts between different parts of society and how crime can either be evil or banal.
It’s hard to know which is worse really and Rowe does not push a particular view on this conundrum onto her readers, she leaves the question open ended.
Persy is a fantastic character and she has an interesting relationship with Marge.
They’ve worked together before on a crime, but Marge has a tendency to meddle that raises the stakes without her even realising what she is doing.
Persy on the other hand is quite busy lowering the stakes as she enjoys a hit of wild sex with Det Ren Tucker.
Then a young girl appears to have gone missing. Her mother, an A-type character if ever there was one, calls on Marge to try to find out what happened between the pair of them during a few counselling sessions that the girl had after witnessing an armed robbery.
The girl is fey and possibly flighty, but as the book unfolds it appears she really is not who she seems to be.
Hour of Darkness is a book that ticks all the boxes for a mysterious police procedural that at times enters thriller territory.
Those who live in Cape Town will be impressed with the accuracy with which Rowe addresses the strata of society and the collisions that occur between the disparate groups who call it home. But, and this is important, you don’t have to live in Cape Town or even in South Africa to get the issues and the pace of this fantastic novel. It is so well written and plotted that it truly has international appeal.
Great plotting and insight into her characters make for a fast and furious read.
The only pity is that you will be heartbroken when you finish it.
Jennifer Crocker is a communciations specialist and former editor
Originally published in the Cape Times 29 January 2016