Malla Nunn's fourth Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper novel, Present Darkness, is our June Whodunit Top Pick! Set in 1953 Johannesburg during the early years of Apartheid, DS Cooper is grappling with the secret of his mixed race identity while aiding in a highly publicized murder investigation. But when one of the suspects turns out to be the son of Cooper's friend, Zulu DS Samuel Shabalala, Cooper can't shake the feeling that police corruption is playing a part. Our columnist, Bruce Tierney, can't get enough of Nunn's "fast-paced, intricate storylines . . . deeply flawed hero and Oscar-worthy cast of supporting characters."
We chatted with Nunn about her Apartheid setting, her work as a filmmaker and more in a 7 questions interview.
Describe your book in one sentence.
When the son of Detective Sergeant Cooper’s best friend is accused of murder, Emmanuel plunges into the world of corrupt police, thieves and violent township gangs to find the truth.
What inspired you to set your Emmanuel Cooper series in 1950s, apartheid era South Africa?
The 1950s were brutal. My family (who are mixed race) lost jobs, land and relationships as a result of the hard line laws introduced in the early '50s. South Africa was divided into white and non-whites zones and activities that were previously frowned on (interracial sex for example) became criminal offences. I wondered how the police could enforce laws that were fundamentally criminal. The 1950s threw up huge moral choices for every South African and Detective Emmanuel Cooper is our guide through this tumultuous time.
What do you love most about Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper?
I love that Cooper, a World War II vet, views South Africa from an outside perspective. He’s seen the worst in humans and believes that, black or white, people are people and equally capable of kindness and cruelty.
What was your favorite book as a child?
A book of fairy tales by Hans Christian Anderson. Blood, tears, drama and suffering!
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
‘Finish the book.’
How has your work as a filmmaker influenced your writing?
My novels have a strong visual element and are essentially fleshed out films in book form.
What are you working on next?
A novel set in North Carolina about a kick ass female who saves the world. I’m loving the new location.