Book Review: Homeland

Karin Brynard

Penguin Random House

Review: Brian Joss

Captain Albertus Beeslaar, a relic of the old South African police, who was posted to the Kalahari to get away from the stress of city life and a serious charge of racism, made his debut in Weeping Waters (2014), a riveting read in which he found himself embroiled in farm murders, a controversial topic which makes newspaper headlines; a neo-Nazi vigilante group; superstition and racial conflict.

In his second appearance in Our Fathers (2016) Beeslaar leaves the Kalahari to visit an old friend in Stellenbosch, but when he gets there he learns that his friend has died. Meanwhile Sergeant Johannes Ghaap who featured in Weeping Waters and was mentored by Beeslaar is in Soweto to live life at the cutting edge. Another gripping read from Brynard, it involves murder, kidnapping of someone close to Beeslaar’s heart, and a sangoma.

In Homeland, Beeslaar is about to hand in his resignation papers to General “the Moegel” Leonard Mogale who’s in charge of the Upington District, and go back to Johannesburg to be with Gerda and their infant daughter, take a 9-5 job with a security company including a much higher salary and a car.

But life has a way of getting in the way of life. The Moegel ignores the letter and orders Beeslaar to Witdraai to investigate the death of a San elder, Diekie Grysbors, who died after being released from custody. The San blame the police, especially the station commander, Captain Pieter “Kappies” de Vos, who refuses to investigate. A tourist, Hermann Zimmerman, is murdered and his body is removed by two strangers. There is a violent attack at Ashkam, on a German professor, Dieter Echardt,  who is researching San medication and propagating rare plants that have curative properties which will make the community rich. However, he is reluctant to talk to the police. Meanwhile a high-powered South African contingent, possibly including Number 1, VIPs and delegates from the United Nations will be visiting the area which borders on the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, where the last of the Kalahari San eke out a living. A new section is being given to the San. And Mogale wants Beeslaar to sew up the case before the high profile political event takes place. In addition, the police are under fire from the San’s lawyer, Jakobus “Silver” Bladbeen, for refusing to take action against De Vos, whose father-in-law is one of the leaders at the Afrikaner enclave of Orania. De Vos is also obsessed with Scotty Smith, a historical figure who reportedly buried a cache of diamonds on his farm, Shetland, that the police captain was renting.

Meanwhile Kytie Rooi, a cleaner at Fluisterrivier, a guesthouse, kills a man when she finds him abusing a small and strange girl, the daughter of vagrants who sell her for sex. Kytie and the girl, dubbed Tienrand, can’t speak and the pair flee and finally find sanctuary at the home of Antas Wilpard, who is an expert in San medicines, and she has a lodger Optel, who helps her. However, there is something peculiar about him. But he takes a shine to Tienrand: apparently the ancestors told him she was coming.  Kappies de Vos is murdered and the case is proving too much for Beeslaar’s new colleague, Colonel Cordelia “Koekoes” Mentoor who has been sent to take charge of the investigation. She’s a protégé of Mogale’s and is a “pipsqueak” literally but she brooks no nonsense from the men and women under her command at River Park where she had taken over from a corrupt cop, Colonel Henry Kotana. If there was one place Mentoor didn’t want to see again it was Witdraai, Kappies’s little kingdom. She is hiding a secret that could derail the investigation. Koekoes is convinced that the man who murdered De Vos is a San called Coin Bloubees and she is fixated on proving him guilty, ignoring all the evidence and advice from Beeslaar. There is also interference from the State Security Agency who survey the area ahead of the arrival of the delegation, and their members annoy the ‘fiery fairy’ – but who doesn’t.

Then Koekoes is kidnapped when she ignores Police 101: don’t go into dangerous situations without back-up. But leave it to Beeslaar to come to the rescue. And that’s not a spoiler because you’ll be biting your nails to the quick as the suspense builds up.

All the characters in Homeland are alive, breathe and bleed: Yskas Arnoster, the San vendor who has a stand selling souvenirs to tourists; Kytie Rooi and Tienrand; Pyl, the inexperienced cop who featured in Weeping Waters has become a computer expert and is now a key member, along with Ghaap, of Beeslaar’s team; Silver Bladbeen, the silver-tongued lawyer for the San; medicine woman Antas Wilpard; the shady Org Botha; the reporter on the Gemsbok. Helena Smit, who knows Mentoor’s secret; the dying Oom Boy Wannenburg and his daughter Heilna.

But Koekoes is the one that gets under your skin, so much so that you want to scream at her in frustration. She is so exasperating you feel like shaking her so she wakes up to smell the coffee.

The Kalahari also takes on a life of its own thanks to Brynard’s descriptive writing. You can feel the heat, the dry air sapping your energy and the hot, red sand scorching the soles of your feet. And when Beeslaar gets a puncture in his bakkie on his way to Witdraai and left stranded because Ghaap forgot to replace the jack, you want to send him a six-pack of bottled water and bandages for his blisters.

It is trite to say that Homeland is a page-turner. It is an engrossing read that will grip you from page 1. And Brynard has unerringly put her finger on the pulse of the conflict between the San and the West.

I doubt if Beeslaar is going to settle for that secure 9-5 job with the security company. But I am sure we will read more about him, his team, and Mentoor.  And as for Gerda, “‘n Boer maak ‘n plan”. Homeland is available in Afrikaans as Tuisland. If you haven’t yet read Our Fathers and Weeping Waters you should put them on your reading list with Homeland.

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