Hour of Darkness
Readers familiar with Michéle Rowe’s exhilarating plot twists and authentic South African characters will love her latest spine-chilling thriller.
It’s Earth Hour. People worldwide are switching off their lights to mark the global energy crisis. In an exclusive housing estate outside Cape Town, violent criminals wage terror under cover of darkness.
When a woman and her baby are abducted, Detective Persy Jonas is brought onto the case. That very hour, a young female patient of psychologist Marge Labuschagne disappears from the same estate. Despite their combative relationship, Persy and Marge join forces.
The investigation leads to a land claim by the descendants of slaves, and to unscrupulous developers with links to gangsters and corrupt politicians. But from the start, Persy’s personal life threatens to jeopardise the case. She’s stuck in a destructive relationship with the dangerously seductive Detective Ren Tucker, and the search for the missing women awakens painful memories of her own abandonment by the mother she can barely remember.
When a body is found, the hunt for a killer begins. Soon Persy is engulfed in a political firestorm so sinister that even her own police force cannot protect her, and she is faced with a terrible choice – her very own hour of darkness.
A page-turner from one of South Africa’s exciting new crime novelists.
Fred sat in his car and watched the lights go off in the houses on the street. One by one. He checked his dashboard clock. Eight p.m. exactly. Then the light in his house went off. Natasha would take something like Earth Hour seriously. She’d got some weird ideas in her head. He didn’t mind. It was best to do what everyone else in this neighbourhood did, and not stand out in any way.
The house looked unlived-in from the outside: a seventies, split-level affair with wood and slasto details. Only a rental, as impermanent as every other place Fred Splinters had occupied. He deserved something better by now. It gave him a sour taste in his mouth to think he might be a failure. It was not a good thought, not a helpful thought. Why had Natasha insisted on this area? She liked the ‘ordinariness’, she’d said, that she could walk to the shops. However, it was also close to Diep River Police Station, only four blocks away, which did not suit Fred at all. He preferred to give the law a wide berth. He clicked the gate remote. The metal gate shuddered, partially opened, and then stuck. It was just one of the many things about the dump that set his teeth on edge. It meant he had to get out of the car – a late-model Camry sedan (a deliberately unremarkable choice) – and shift the gate himself, giving it a little shove to dislodge it. Try as he might, he could never discover the exact place where it stuck. He’d tried everything: oiling it with 3-in-1, dismantling and reassembling it, checking the rails and runners. He didn’t want to call in a professional repairman – he never allowed workmen to snoop around at the house if he wasn’t there. He couldn’t trust Natasha not to draw attention to herself the minute his back was turned.
He parked the car and switched off the lights and ignition, taking his time and gathering his thoughts. Unpleasant ones were preoccupying his mind at the moment. Natasha had been more nervous than usual lately. Jumpy almost, since they moved into the house.
He had let himself in one day, when she was out, and gone through her things, finding nothing unusual apart from an old, chipped cup hidden at the back of the kitchen cupboard. Inside was an envelope, and inside that a key. A key for a post-office box he had no knowledge of. His first impulse had been to collect more information first, so that he was well armed beforehand. But the temptation to immediately confront Natasha with the evidence of her perfidy proved too tempting.
Natasha had stared at the key lying in the palm of his outstretched hand, then lowered her eyes. It gave him a thrill, the way she tried to hide her fear. She should be fucking scared. Fred had a nose for fear. He could smell it, like an animal scented danger.
‘Never seen it before,’ she lied, wiping her hair behind her ear. Another one of the nervous habits he’d tried to wean her off.
She was a small woman, slightly built and narrow-hipped, and looked pretty good considering how rough she’d had it. Before Fred came to her rescue.
He shoved it in her face, inches from her nose. ‘You’re telling me you’ve never seen this before?’
Her dumb-animal headshake did nothing to reassure him. She wouldn’t be scared unless she had something to hide.
So he had gone to the nearest post office, which was Plumstead, and tried all the boxes. Eventually, one had fitted. Box 1240. It was empty. He didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed. But the knowledge of it would serve as extra leverage against Natasha.
He wouldn’t rock the boat for the moment. He must be patient with her, soothe her into letting her guard down, and then act.
She would be getting nervous now, wondering what Fred was doing, waiting for him to get out of the car. She would time it so that she was opening the door for him as he came up the stairs from the garage. Fred liked to think she spent all day waiting for the moment when he came home. The least she could do when you thought about everything he had done for her. Saved her from the filth and poverty of life on the street. He shuddered at the thought of the diseases she might have been carrying. Fortunately, he had not defiled himself with her, or any other woman for that matter. He had never enjoyed intimacy. Killing was already a very intimate act, and he did more than enough of that.
Fred’s domestic life was the only refuge he had from his demanding job. He liked to come home and let Natasha bring him a drink as he sat in his La-Z-Boy in his Woolworths robe, feet up, dstv on. She would have his meal ready and would sit next to him, ready to jump for whatever he wanted. Pondering her usual domestic acquiescence, Fred found it difficult to believe Natasha would actually hide anything from him. The thought of it was like a hot needle in his heart. Deep down, he clung to the hope that she was innocent.
But Fred’s assessment of human beings was a cynical one. And nothing in his life had ever challenged that conclusion. Perhaps it was the nature of his work, but he found that people only truly responded to force. He did not necessarily enjoy exercising violence on others. It just happened to be what he did, was second nature to him. He never got emotional, or took it personally. That’s why he had a good reputation.
He watched the flicker of candlelight warm the window of the living room. Then he got out of the car and went inside the house to where Natasha waited for him.
- SA novel a thrill to the very last word - Rowe has an uncanny knack to twist her plots and characters to form an intricate web of suspense and intrigue. She uses her portrayal of very real South African characters and their stories to masterfully depict infinitely different perspectives of life and crime on the Cape Flats.
- A fast and furious mystery you won’t be able to put down - 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.