Cape Times

The harsh truth will rock you – but will it set you free?

- REVIEWER: JENNIFER CROCKER

HAMMERMAN: A WALKING SHADOW

Mike Nicol Loot.co.za (R209) UMUZI

MIKE Nicol's new book in the series featuring surfer/PI Fish Pescado and Vicki Kahn, lawyer and former spy. The action starts with a simple discussion about what to have for dinner between the couple.

After years they are seriously considerin­g Vicki moving from her apartment into Fish's house in Muizenburg. The introducti­on is mild; the couple is debating on the phone what to have for dinner.

Then Fish gets a call from Professor Summers, who he provides with cannabis oil and products; the professor has got himself into the middle of a shooting incident in Manenberg. Fish goes off to save the professor.

In Manenberg, Colonel Andre Jacobs is managing an active shooting scene.

A little girl has been shot and he is doing his best to get her to safety.

It's then that a particular­ly odious opposition politician pitches up.

Cesar Mapula wants in on the action. It should be noted that Colonel AJ comes from the apartheid regime.

At the scene, he receives a phone call giving him instructio­ns that he does not want to follow, or even consider, but he is given little space to escape them ultimately: because Col AJ has secrets and links to the past that can never be revealed.

In another plot twist a young security agent, Nandi, gets involved with Cesar and his merry men to her detriment when she goes off grid, and also becomes part of Fish's increasing­ly fraught life, as does an attack on Vicki which leaves her in a coma; no spoiler there, I promise -it's on the back cover of the book.

With his deft style, that gives the reader everything they know about the places and people that Nicol introduces them to, there is not a wasted word in his writing.

Through a series of strange meetings and a ratcheting toll of bodies, there is a brilliant device that Nicol uses where we are privy to Fish thinking that Vicki is speaking to him from her hospital bed. When she goes quiet there is a gathering sense of dread that she may have died, but we don't know.

The story arc covers the hushed-up past of the apartheid era, the mystery of who exactly killed Swedish prime minister Olof Palmer in 1986. And of course, ‘the Voice', the woman no one ever sees.

The Olof Palmer section is brilliantl­y framed in a series of communique­s, skillfully written, reaching out from the past.

I remain in awe of how the author manages to hold together a complex plot, with a beautiful sense of pace.

From Muizenburg to the West Coast, to the Moordenaar­s Karoo, secrets are unveiled.

The twists and turns and connection­s between characters in other books in the series are all handled with the smoothness of, well one of the smoothies that Cesar Mapula and his marks drink.

The issues the book references, and comments on, are ones we are familiar with: gang warfare, corruption in the State Security Cluster, fear of losing face, fear of losing our loved ones. You can add to that the way in which women are treated and abused, and rejoice in meeting Janet, Fish's homeless person who has taken up her home in his backyard.

One of the best books I have read, and I think Nicol's finest off a high base. You really will only know the truth at the end, and the truth will rock you.

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