Excerpt from A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Beautiful Place to Die

A Novel

By Malla Nunn

A Beautiful Place to Die
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2009,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: Oct 2009,
    384 pages.

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"How many people can take a shot like that even in broad daylight?"

"Many," the black policeman said. "The white men learn to shoot guns at their club. Captain Pretorius and his sons have won many trophies." Shabalala thought for a moment. "Mrs. Pretorius has also won many."

Emmanuel again pressed his left eye socket where the headache was beginning. He'd landed in a town of sharpshooting inbred Afrikaner farmers.

"Where did the killer go after dumping the body?"

"The river." Shabalala walked to the edge of the water and pointed to where the captain's heel marks and the killer's footprints disappeared into the flow.

A clump of bulrushes with the stems snapped back lay on the opposite bank. A narrow path trailed off into the bushlands.

"The killer came out there?" He pointed to the trampled rushes.

"I think so."

"Whose farm is that?" Emmanuel asked, and felt a familiar surge of adrenaline -- the excitement of the first lead in a new case. They could track the killer to his door and finish this today. With luck he'd be back in Jo'burg for the weekend.

"No farm," came the reply. "Mozambique."

"You sure, man?"

"Yebo. Mo. Zam. Bique." Shabalala repeated the name, long and slow, so there was no mistake. The syllables emphasized that across the bank was another country with its own laws and its own police force.

Emmanuel and Shabalala stood side by side and looked across the water for a long while. Five minutes on the opposite shore might give up a clue that could break open the case. Emmanuel did a quick calculation. If he was caught across the border, he'd spend the next two years checking ID passes at whites-only public toilets. Even Major van Niekerk, a canny political animal with connections to burn, couldn't fix up a bungled visit across the border.

He turned to face South Africa and concentrated on the evidence in front of him. The neatness of the scene and the sniper-like targeting of the victim's head and spine indicated a cool and methodical hand. The location of the body was also a deliberate choice. Why take the time to drag it to the water when it could have been left on the sand?

The brother's smuggler theory didn't hold water, either. Why wouldn't the smuggler cross farther upstream and avoid all that attention and trouble? Not only that, why would he compromise his path between borders by murdering a white man?

"Did the killer come out of the river?" Emmanuel asked.

The Zulu policeman shook his head. "When I came here the herd boys and their oxen had been to the river to drink. If the tracks were here, they are gone now."

"Detective Sergeant," Hansie said, walking toward them, pink skin flushed with exertion.

"Anything?"

"Nothing but sand, Detective Sergeant."

The dead man floated in the river. A spring rain, gentle as mist, began to fall.

"Let's get the captain," Emmanuel said.

"Yebo."

Sadness flickered across the black man's face for a moment and then it was gone.

Copyright © 2009 by Malla Nunn

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