26 February 2024

Of Wild Dogs, and South African crime novels

Of Wild Dogs (Fiction Africa)Of Wild Dogs by Jane Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An above-average crime novel set, like so many South African crime novels, in Cape Town, which, in the case of this one, leads to one of its chief weaknesses -- that though the focus of the story does at some points move out of Cape Town to Limpopo province, the story at those points becomes blurred and sketchy, lacking in the detail that makes it interesting at other points.

In the story Ewan Christopher, a British journalist, travels to Cape Town to meet an old flame, Hannah Viljoen, whom he had met when she was in exile in England. Hannah is working as an artist in a museum, but Christopher arrives to find she has just died, and murder is suspected. He befriends Helena de Villiers, the pathologist, and Cicero Matyobeni, the detective investigating the case, which becomes more complex and involved the more they investigate it.

There are some nice descriptive passages, one that caught my fancy being
Helena's father had marked his European cast of mind by marrying Athena Papandreas, a dark beauty who caught his imagination when he first saw her, in a ruched fuschia-pink bathing suit and floral swimming cap, bobbing like a frosted tea-cake upon the contained tide at St James

I suppose it all depends on how you like your crime novels. Those who like them "gritty" might find a "floral swimming cap bobbing like a frosted tea cake" a bit flowery for their taste. but I found it all added to the local flavour, as did the mention of "varsity", which even now in South Africa has not yet been superseded by the Australian & Brit "uni".

If it weren't for the skimping on the Limpopo bits, especially towards the end, I'd have given it five stars. Chapters 30-36 look like rough drafts that the author meant to complete later. But it's still worth reading. 

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09 February 2024

Plausible versus Credible: the Language of Genocide

The International Court of Justice recently declared that South Africa's accusation that the government of Israel was committing genocide in Gaza was "plausible", and ordered the government of Israel to desist from certain actions, and to allow others, such as "humanitarian assistance" to the people of Gaza. 

The response of many Western governments was not merely to connive at, but to actively support this possible genocide by immediately cutting off support to UNRWA, the main agency providing this "humanitarian assistance". They thus directly went against the judgement of the court, which had examined the evidence. and did so because they found some unsubstantiated allegations by the government of Israel that some UNRWA employees had participated in the October 7 outrage in Israel to be "credible".

This raises the question of what the words "plausible" and "credible" mean.

"Credible" is a much stronger word than "plausible" -- it means trustworthy, reliable, worthy of being believed. 

"Plausible", on the other hand, is a much weaker word. It means that something is apparently true.  We speak of someone who is a "plausible rogue", a person who has the gift of the gab, the ability to persuade people that something is true even though it may not be. 

The Western governments that apparently rejected the judgment of a court that examined the evidence, and yet immediately accepted unsubstantiated allegations by the accused in the case as "credible" are therefore credulous at best, but more likely to be complicit in war crimes, mass murder, and possibly genocide (if the ICJ eventually does find that the government of Israel was indeed practising genocide in Gaza). 

But it might clarify a lot of muddled thinking about such things if people were more careful about how they use words like "plausible" and "credible".


05 February 2024

A Quiet Belief in Angels

A Quiet Belief in Angels

A Quiet Belief in Angels by R.J. Ellory
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Given the title, it was not quite what I expected.

It starts off with this kid, Joseph Vaughan, who's 11 going on 12, and in love with his teacher and half in love with the girl who sits next to him in class. But his father dies and the girl is murdered, and someone tells him about dead people becoming angels so he gets interested in the topic and tells his teacher all about the Celestial Hierarchy -- the works. Like he's read Dionysus the Areopagite (Pseudo, if you insist) and all that stuff, but he says he got it from the Bible.

But after that there's not much mention of angels, apart from a few feathers. Joseph's teacher encourages him to become a writer, and give him books to read.

A lot more girls get murdered, and Joseph and his friends vow to protect them, but fail to do so, and his friends grow up and forget their promise, but Joseph persists, and his life is pretty sad. It's a sad story, but worth reading, only not for the reason I thought.

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