Present Darkness by Malla Nunn

present darknessPresent Darkness by Malla Nunn
Atria, June 2014
DS Cooper book 4

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.


Malla Nunn is an Australia author who was born in Swaziland, and she writes the DS Cooper series set in South Africa in the 1950’s as apartheid was enacted. The present darkness of the title alludes to, in part, the historical moment South Africa was in, and the mood of the book is quite grim. Nunn does a great job of showing how crime and the background of emerging from World War II played into the development of apartheid and how individual police officers did their jobs while very affected by their pasts.

The story revolves around the investigation into the violent assault on a white schoolmaster and his wife, and the accused is a black student who spent the evening with the family for dinner. He also happens to be the son of one of Cooper’s colleagues. The story takes place both in Johannesburg and a remote part of the Northern Province, and Cooper himself is an outsider in Johannesburg (he’s on assignment there).

I don’t typically read historical crime fiction, but I’m a fan of this particular book. I’m thankful for the many bloggers and commenters who have recommended this series! Cooper is such an interesting character in such an interesting moment in the political history of South Africa and in such an outsider position in the police force as well that it was a great hook for me. I’m also counting this book as my wildcard entry in the 2014 Global Reading Challenge for the seventh continent, which I’m classifying as historical crime fiction.

Other reviews appear in Book’d Out (Shelleyrae), Fair Dinkum Crime (Kerrie), and Aunt Agatha’s.

14 thoughts on “Present Darkness by Malla Nunn

  1. Glad you liked this one, Rebecca. I think Nunn is very talented, and really evokes the time and place well. And you’ve reminded me I ought to spotlight one of her novels. Thanks. 🙂

  2. The first in this series is one I plan to read sometime soon. I did not realize it was a historical mystery. Looking forward to it.

    • I know you like police procedurals and read more historical stuff than I do: hope you like it. I have one of the earlier ones but not the first waiting for me…

  3. I have read Malla Nunn’s three prior books and recommend them whole-heartedly. The first one A Beautiful Place to Die just takes one’s breath away at the end, the revelations about apartheid, the treatment of women of color and so much more.
    Nunn’s parents who were considered “mixed-race” fled South Africa’s apartheid system and moved to Swaziland, where she was born and grew up. Then they moved to Australia.
    She considers herself an African woman and spoke to her relatives about their ancestors.
    I got so much of the feeling for life under that horrific system from the first two books.

    • I’m looking forward to the first two books based on your recommendation, Kathy, and thanks for the background information about Nunn as well. Time to look up some interviews.

    • Thanks for the link, Kathy: that was a very interesting piece. I’m glad she’s embraced being a crime writer. I’m so tired of people thinking one genre is higher quality than another.

  4. Yes. I agree. I just got that view from a friend who reads “good” books, searches them out, but told me no matter what murder mysteries are recommended to her, she never sees good writing.
    I had recommended Ivy Pochoda’s “Visitation Street.” She wasn’t impressed, but many crime readers have thought this was an excellent book with strong writing. As one blogger always says, “No one reads the same book.” Also, no one has the same taste in books.

    • Interesting comments: I like talking about books because everyone has a different reaction/reading. And there are just so many books available, whether they are in print or not, that makes it easier for tastes to be ultra-specific. I read so much crime fiction because while I like good writing, I need a plot along with it. And thanks again for reminding me about Visitation Street. How is it the end of June already?

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