What Hidden Lies

Detective Persephone ‘Persy’ Jonas and gangster Sean Dollery grew up together in the coloured township of Ocean View, a ghetto on the Cape Town coast infamous for poaching, dog fights and drugs; their childhood friendship a refuge from their troubled families. But since Persy’s been assigned to the local police station, she’s made it her mission to break Sean’s criminal stranglehold on the neighbourhood. Sean, betrayed and vengeful ­­– plans to fight back with everything he’s got.

Near the Ocean View township lies the wealthy village of Noordhoek, whose mainly white residents staunchly defend their privileged access to the famous Chapman’s Peak and beautiful Long Beach. A South African ‘Happy Valley’, pastoral calm is Noordhoek’s image, but not far below the surface lie numerous intrigues and entanglements. Dr Marge Labuschagne, a retired criminal psychologist, is one of the ensnared residents. When the cantankerous and reclusive Marge discovers a man’s body trapped between the rocks she immediately recognises him as an ex-patient, Andrew Sherwood. Persy is sent out on the case – her first murder case. The women distrust each other at first sight. Marge thinks the androgynous coloured girl is no more than window dressing for the new South African Police Services; Persy thinks Marge is an unrepentant white racist. Yet they have more in common than they think, bound in ways they cannot imagine…

Startlingly vivid with immensely engaging characters, What Hidden Lies by Michèle Rowe is an intelligent and complex novel from an exciting new voice in crime fiction.


TITLE: What Hidden Lies
AUTHOR: Michèle Rowe
ISBN / EAN:9780143530893
PAGES: 352
FORMAT: Trade Paperback
SIZE: 234mm x 153mm
PUBLISHER: Penguin Books South Africa

TITLE: What Hidden Lies
AUTHOR: Michèle Rowe
e.BOOK ISBN / EAN: 9780143531012
PUBLISHER: Penguin Books South Africa


Twenty years earlier …

‘Wait for me!’
The voice was thin, but carrying, as piercing as a bird’s, and getting closer. They stopped. He saw that look of fury she got whenever he followed them, tried to be part of their secret world.
‘He’s following us!’
She started back along the path they had come.
‘Where are you going?’ He called after her, not wanting to be left alone in the gloom, the trees crowding in on him.
She shouted over her shoulder. ‘Carry on, I’ll catch up.’
She disappeared. He waited a couple of minutes, then walked on alone. He could hear their muffled voices, and then hers raised, echoing through the trees, ‘Voetsêk! Go home!’ There was silence, then a howl of outrage, followed by a wailing cry.
She reappeared through the trees, running, and overtook him, shouting, ‘Come, quick!’
He set off after her, watching her thin brown legs flashing in and out of sight. The cry of abandonment and fury grew fainter behind them. He felt a stab of guilt, but soon the cries were lost in the trees and all he could hear was his own harsh breathing as he struggled to catch up with her. He was bigger, but she was faster, at everything.
She slowed to a quick walking pace, and he fell in beside her. No need to talk. Enough to be with her, and away from his father, free to roam. He was afraid up here sometimes, but would never tell her. He didn’t want to feel the stab of her sharp elbows, hear her mocking voice, ‘What are you scared of? What?’
He didn’t want her to know he was scared of the black trees with their shiny leathery leaves, of the mountain towering like a battlement above, of the unnatural silence in the milkwoods, where their footfalls made no sound. He’d long ago learned to hide his fear, knowing his father would thrash him at the first sign of it. She feared nothing; she had never cowed before a beating, never felt the force of someone’s fury and despair. She saw only what was light and bright in the world.
They emerged from the tunnel of trees, skirting the open mine, where the big machine stood silent and resting. They passed by, unseen by the workmen who sat under a tree eating their lunch, their rough laughter coming in sharp bursts.
They came out at the top of the steep crumbling terraces, and looked down on the tops of the palm trees and the corrugated iron roof. The sea spread out below them, a blinding silver mass. Taking the steps two at a time, they descended to the back of the house. He lifted the rotted sash window, and she crawled in, then held it open for him. He followed her through the kitchen. It was hot and close. Fine beads of moisture glistened in the nape of her neck, under her braid. They moved through the dim, empty rooms, making for the wooden stairs. They climbed up to the room in the eaves and paused on the threshold. The sea sounded louder up here, the boom coming in through the rafters. They looked at each other, and giggled, breathless, inhaling the familiar smells of dust, damp wood and sea. Dust motes flickered like a halo around her head. They made for the window looking down onto the road, checking to see that he had not followed them.
But he had.
They saw him, his small figure lit up in a shaft of sunlight, before the roar deafened them and the earth began to move …
Afterwards, they walked home without speaking. The black trees enveloped them like a shroud. His throat was choked up with something hard and hurting, with what could never be said, because words would make it real. Silence made it imaginary, a nightmare that once awakened from, could be forgotten, a memory buried too deep to remember.
Back home questions would be asked. He would never say a word and neither would she. In this way they were bound together, a tie that would bind them more strongly than love.


Ocean View appeared at the end of Kommetjie Road, sprawled across the low rises and shallow dips of the rocky outcrops that stretched away from the sea towards Misty Cliffs and Scarborough. Detective Constable Persy Jonas had heard it described as ‘Mediterranean’, maybe because of the brightly painted cottages climbing the rocky hillside against the backdrop of the blue Atlantic.
But there was nothing exotic about it – it was like any other township, with its mushrooming shacks and littered streets, thin dogs and rusted car wrecks. She turned into Protea Drive, heading east into the section known as ‘Lapland’ and pulled up at the bottom of Carnation Road. As she climbed out of the air-conditioned cab of the Nissan bakkie the weight of the dry heat struck her like a blow. It was still early morning; it would reach the thirties later. The stench of garbage and rotting kelp, by-products of the spring tide, rose up from the ‘Kom’, from the Dutch word for ‘basin’, the small protected bay where the fishing boats launched. A couple of young men stood smoking beneath the ineffective shade of a scrappy gum tree; the contrast between the blaring white light and the shade making black pits of their eyes. Small-time dealers, hoekstaanders, waiting for drop-offs. If she searched them they would have nothing, everything stashed away in a hole somewhere, or stuffed under someone’s sink. She felt their eyes on her back as she climbed the rutted track to Sean Dollery’s house. Dollery, moving into big-time dealing of crystal meth, known as tik, probably manufacturing from one of the houses
further up in Ghost Town. It was the third time this week she’d been around looking for him. He’d been adept at hiding from the time he was a kid, evading his father’s beatings, but being a Sunday she might get lucky, catch him sleeping off his Saturday night. She knew she shouldn’t be here, and not just because she had no backup, but because Ocean View was not strictly her area.
Cops weren’t sent back into their home communities as a rule, for fear they’d end up in the back pocket of the skollies, or local criminals. She could legitimately snoop, if she was following up on Fish Hoek crimes that had roots in Ocean View. Which was more often than not the case. At the moment on her desk there were eleven cases of burglary, five had the same modus operandi. And although she had no evidence linking them to Dollery, it was convenient to make it seem she had. She wanted him locked up and out of sight, to be free of the low-level hum of anxiety she felt whenever she thought of him. And if she had to break a few rules along the way, so be it.
She’d spotted Dollery around since she’d been stationed at Fish Hoek, usually at the courts with some scummy lawyer smirking at his side. Charges never stuck. Dockets disappeared or witnesses failed to turn up, the usual shit. He was paying everyone off, including cops. To get him, you had to know the way his mind worked, his weaknesses.
Twenty Carnation Road was an ash-brick block with two lace-curtained windows and a door that sat crooked on its hinges between them, a disgruntled, sullen face. On the corrugated iron roof, like a rakish hat, sat a TV satellite dish. Going on sixty per cent unemployment here, but no shortage of satellite dishes. Certainly not for the Sean Dollerys of this world, coining it from others’ misery. She had a visceral hatred for him and his type that transcended past loyalties. He was scum, pulling the community down. As kids they’d roamed these incongruously named streets – Daisy, Petunia, Carnation – scrabbling in the dust for bits of scrap, anything to be turned into a diversion. The only place of beauty she remembered from her childhood was the church on the hill, St Norbert’s. Frangipani in the vases in the vestry, the scratch of her lace-stiff white dress against the back of her thighs. Her first Holy Communion. Poppa there, hair slicked down and proud in the front pew, craning to catch her walk to the altar, eyes shining like brown berries. On the opposite side of the aisle, Charlene Dollery gazing on the angelic face of Sean, her only son, apple of her eye. But then Sean’s father went down for ten years for assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm. Charlene was left alone to manage Sean, and between the men who ‘supported’ her, and the bits and pieces of employment she managed to scrounge, she lost track of her son. They moved to Bonteheuwel, and when they came back, Sean’s sloe-eyed chiselled beauty had hardened into the shutdown, watchful face of the Cape Flats. Next thing he was working with Pietchie at Die Blokke, stealing from the younger kids, running errands for the local high-flyers. Getting into shit with the juvenile courts.
By the time Persy returned from Police College, Sean had succumbed to the thug life, like so many of their peers, fucking up the coloured community, bringing everyone down to their low-life level.
Sean’s pit bulls started up as she neared the house – chained in the back, baying for blood. They would not be around long, bound as they were for illegal dogfights. Down in dug-out pits covered in corrugated iron, blank-eyed men stripped to the waist and sweating, watching the dogs tear bloody gobbets out of each other. Couldn’t stop it – it was just another addiction to violence and pain and oblivion.
She banged on the door.
No answer. Not that she was expecting one. But she caught the twitch of the lace. She banged harder.
‘SAPS! Open up!’
Bolts and locks were reluctantly undone. A puffy-eyed barefoot girl stood in the doorway, heavy breasts distorting the Playboy logo on her nightie. A fat baby was slung on her cocked hip, its face a glazed doughnut of dried snot.
‘Where’s Sean?’ Persy spoke in Afrikaans.
Persy absorbed this blatant lie, delivered without a blink. ‘Ja, and where’s this ‘work’?’
The girl was silent but said ‘fuck you’ with her closed-up bruised-looking face. The baby tugged at her breast. She swatted his fat hand like a fly, making a sucking noise of disapproval.
‘Charlene here?’
‘She’s there by the German.’
Sean’s mother, Charlene Dollery, worked as a domestic for Klaus Schneider, a wealthy German ‘swallow’ who spent half the year in Kommetjie and half in Hamburg.
An older child started whining inside the house, a woman’s voice snapped at him to shut up. Charlene, off work this Sunday but not accepting house calls. Not from the police, anyway.
‘Tell Sean he must come talk to me. Or else we’re going to fetch him and take him to the station. Understand?’
The door slammed in her face – sounds of bolts being shot.
Time to check out the tin and wooden shack around the back. Her hand went to her weapon. Just in case. Ocean View had been a quiet area when Persy was growing up – now it was as dangerous as any other township. Especially for a cop.
The dogs started up again with hysterical barking, she could hear them banging their bodies on the tin and barbed wire partition. Half-starved probably, or coming down off tik. Sometimes they were fed tik – to bring them to boiling point before a fight. A yelp and silence. Someone was in the back there with them. Had given them a well-aimed kick.
The plywood door of the shack had been jimmied a few times and was tightly secured with a couple of heavy chains and padlocks, leaving gaps between the door and frame through which Persy spotted a spray-painting gun and the rear end of Dollery’s Golf. Out of action, by the look of it. She felt exposed, wired tension in her neck like she was holding it too tight – as if someone was watching her; probably Sean had her in his sights. It was just a matter of time with her and Sean. She felt a kind of sick excitement, her adrenaline pumping. She imagined him cuffed in court, going down for years. Out of her life, out of her head. A sound as sharp as a gunshot cracked above her head – she dropped like a stone, pulling her weapon out, heart jackhammering against her ribs. Was someone shooting at her? Keeping down, she scuttled sideways beneath a narrow overhang. It offered her some protection, but her arse was out there for the shooter. No vest either. Stupid, stupid, coming out here alone, Titus would give her hell if he found out. She pressed her back to the wall, ears ringing with the strain of listening while the dogs went frantic again. Whoever was on the roof had a heavy tread, thumping around up there. The dogs were going mad, slathering and banging themselves against the gate, amped for a fight. Thank God they were chained or she would be torn to shreds. The shuffling stopped. A heavy grunt. Silence. Somehow worse than the noise. Had someone taken the dogs inside?
Her hair stood up on her neck like a brush and the saliva dried in her mouth. Hugging the corrugated iron side she inched towards the back of the shack, hoping to make a break for the shelter of the house next door. There was a bang on the tin above and a dark blur dropped to the ground in front of her, wielding some sort of weapon. She stared into close-set red eyes, teeth bared below, displaying long yellow fangs.
A baboon. Alpha male by the look of him. His weapon a half-eaten butternut. Her relief was momentary. A rogue male could be dangerous and unpredictable. He’d caught her female scent – she’d have to be aggressive to keep him at bay. She waved her arms, yelling, baring her teeth back at him. He screeched, then turned and disappeared around the side of the shack. She could hear him clambering up the side, the gunshot sound again as he landed on the tin sheeting. He leapt onto the Dollerys’ roof, loping alongside the guttering, not taking his eyes off Persy, mocking her.
He reached the satellite dish and hunched down over his butternut, slashing at it with teeth that could tear out a human throat in a second. He must have been foraging in the township bins, risking getting shot or poisoned by the locals. She watched him, calming down, feeling her heartbeat return to normal. He was disconcertingly human, but without any moral sense apart from the will to survive. Not unlike your average criminal. She holstered her weapon. Mhlabeni would have pissed himself if he’d seen this – her drawing her weapon at a monkey. Her fellow detective was always looking for ways to put her down.
She would share the story with Calata, but no one else at the station.
Never give the bastards the ammunition.
Sean Dollery watched Persy get into the Nissan and rumble down the road. He’d seen her with the baboon – checking her out from his window, not had time to dress yet – still in his CKs. He’d had to control his laughter in case she heard him. Stupid little bitch. Coming to his place so early, harassing him. Who the fuck did she think she was? Sean hated it that she knew so much about him, where he lived, where his Ma worked, the whole history of their shared past. Fuck her, she mustn’t come and hang around Die Blokke, using her contacts around Lapland and Ghost Town, interfering with his freedom of movement, fucking up his business. He wanted her off his back – she seemed to think she could just walk free, that no one would touch her, because she’d once been one of them. Not any more. The sell-out bitch thought she was so high and mighty now that she was a detective, shaking the township dust off her feet, above him in some way. It was Poppa who gave her these ideas, killing himself on the boats to send her to that church school with those stuck-up snotty bitches in their kilts while the rest of them rotted in the breeze block with its broken windows and dusty playground filled with broken bottles and used condoms.
They had grown up on neighbouring smallholdings, had been removed to Ocean View at the same time. He had played in the street with her, walked her to Sunday school where they had Jesus, Mary and Joseph stuffed down their throats. He pushed away the memory of the two of them sheltering under the black milkwoods, he crying his eyes out from one of his pa’s beatings. Pushed away the light, strong feel of her thin arm around him, comforting him. He didn’t want to go soft thinking about how she’d had her fair share of grief and loss – just her and Poppa left in the house after her mother went. He felt the weight of shared guilt as to the cause of that grief, gnawing away inside him like a small invisible rat.
Sean’s ma loved Poppa; everyone respected him, even the thugs. He’d been an institution in Ocean View. But he was on his way out, dying in some home somewhere. It was a new generation in Lapland now – harder, tik-heads and high-flyers moving in, past loyalties dying out with the old Ocean View. He was not sentimental about it, couldn’t afford to be. He popped on DSTV. Base MTV. Kanye West in his fur coat, half-naked bitches slathering over him. An old favourite. Heartless, how could you be so heartless? Sean looked covetously at the Mercedes and the diamonds. One day.

Michéle Rowe won the 2011 CWA (Crime Writers’ Association) Debut Dagger Award for the opening chapters of her novel What Hidden Lies, which the judges described as “Fluid and descriptive writing with an attractive setting”.

Read more about the CWA, and this award.

PHILLIP ALTBEKER, Times Live – ‘The latest writer to succeed in reflecting the specific problems besetting policing while also offering a compelling narrative is Michéle Rowe in What Hidden Lies.’ Click HERE to read the full review.

MERVYN SLOMAN, Owner of The Book Lounge – ‘It was a fantastic read, with a great plot, tremendous pace and stand-out characters. Percy Jonas is a wonderful creation. As soon as you put the book down, you want to pick up the next one and read more about this woman’.

LIEZEL FOURIE, 9lives.co.za – ‘Rowe keeps you captivated throughout, always twisting the plot so that you never know what really happened till the very end. Her characters each have their own past secrets, quirks and dark sides, which add interesting elements to the story.’ Click HERE to read the full review.

MARTI WILL, Vista News – ‘This book is brilliant. I am a Patricia Cornwell fan, but after this impressive South African read, I am converted. Michéle Rowe can stand up to the best crime writers in the world.’  Click HERE to read the full review.

TAME TIMES – ‘It is very well written. The relationships between the characters are fully explored and developed. By now I feel like Marge and Persy are old friends that I’ve come to know personally through the pages of the book.’ Click HERE to read the full review.

SHELAGH PARRY, thewordfiend.net – ‘The opening chapters of this debut novel won Michéle Rowe the 2011 CWA (Crime Writers’ Association) Debut Dagger Award and I can see why. This is crime writing just the way I like it – smart, pacy and character-driven.’  Click HERE to see read the full review.

MIKE FITZJAMES, Fine Music Radio – ‘… all I will say is, that if you can put down this book for longer than it takes to pour a drink or make a cup of tea, you’re a mile in front of me. I read and read until my eyes were aching and eventually as I reached the conclusion I realized that I would really miss the various new characters that I had encountered. A tour de force indeed.’

Below are a few phone numbers for traditional bookshops, where you can buy WHAT HIDDEN LIES, as from June 2013. Quote the ISBN (9780143530893) so that they can look it up on their system.  If they do not have the book in stock they will be able to order it for you.

Exclusive Books – click HERE to view the contact details for each of their branches.


 Wordsworth Books – click HERE to view the contact details for each of their branches.


Kalk Bay Books Phone Number: 021 – 788 2266


Novel Books Phone Number: 011 – 463 9320


The Book Lounge Phone Number: 021 – 462 2425


Skoobs Phone Number: 011 – 513 2800


Love Books Phone Number: 011 – 726 7408

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