2013 Global Reading Challenge, review, South Africa

Pale Horses by Jassy Mackenzie

pale horsesPale Horses by Jassy Mackenzie

Soho Press, April 2013

PI Jade de Jong book 4

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

I chose Pale Horses because I’m trying to read books from as many countries as possible for the 2013 Global Reading Challenge. This is the first South African crime novel I’ve read. Also, I’ve liked female PI novels starting with Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton so I’m interested in this sub-genre. Pale Horses is the fourth book in the Jade de Jong series, and the opening chapters provide plenty of backstory about Jade, her personal life, her parents, and her recent past as a private investigator. It’s a lot to cover though this is just book four in the series, and, honestly, it felt a bit clunky to me. Nevertheless, it was necessary information.

Pale Horses centers on Jade’s investigation into the death of Sonet Meintjies, who died during a base jump from a ritzy skyscraper in Johannesburg. She’s hired by Victor Theron, a commodities trader who was Sonja’s jumping partner. Jade works with a police officer and former love interest David Patel during the course of the investigation, and they travel throughout the city and to the remote farmland where Sonet worked as a relief worker. Mackenzie provides plenty of background about tribal land claims and farming practices.

Character-wise, Mackenzie focuses on Jade and David. Jade is a prickly character: she’s made some questionable decisions in her work and personal lives, or maybe her choices are more mystifying to me because I haven’t read any other books in the series. Mackenzie also spends certain chapters with other characters whose connections to the deceased Sonet aren’t clear until the end of the novel. It kept me at a bit of distance from the characters because I kept wondering what part of the puzzle they were.

Overall, I found the book to be a brisk read, but I felt like it somehow didn’t gel or grab me. The individual parts were interesting: a protagonist with complicated personal and professional lives, a conspiracy involving tribal land claims and modern farming science, a mysterious death during base jump from a skyscraper. I think part of my issue is that some of the exposition slowed down the story for me, and, of course, I don’t have the background with the series to get a complete picture of Jade. I’m interested to see what others have thought about earlier books in the series.

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4 thoughts on “Pale Horses by Jassy Mackenzie”

  1. Rebecca – Thanks as ever for a thoughtful and honest review. I like Mackenzie’s writing style (although I agree that she gives a lot of information). I honestly think you might have enjoyed this one more if you’d started with Random Violence (the first of the series). However, Jade de Jong is a character whom you either like very much or you do not (in my opinion). I like Mackenzie’s depiction of atmosphere, setting and so on, but really, I think that whether one becomes a fan of this series depends on what one thinks of Jade. I know – perhaps not a straightforward answer, Still, an honest one.

  2. Thanks for your take on the series, Margot. I think I will give Random Violence a try. That sentence sounds wrong, but you know what I mean 🙂 I tend to like series better if I start at the beginning anyway, and it seems that Jade has been through a lot during the series.

    1. I always think it’s a problem coming in half way through a series. If the author backtracks too much, then people who’ve read the whole series get irritated, but if not enough info is given about the backstory then new readers can feel a bit lost. I haven’t read any of this particular author – I’ll be interested to see what you think if you do go back and read the first one.

      1. I’m not sure when I’ll get to the first book in the series, but I’d like to read it. I think the next couple months will be devoted to trying to finish the Global Reading Challenge (I have to read something besides Swedish crime novels).

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