Many of my reading pals dislike short stories – too many beginnings, too many endings; like driving in rush hour traffic, they say. Lack of flow can be a problem in collections of short stories and of poetry too, for that matter, but not here. François Bloemhof’s compilation and sequencing of the suspense and crime stories in Donker Plekke reads with all the peaks, pause/turns and swooshing plunges of a 24-phase rollercoaster ride.
The collection opens with Afnaweek and Rietfonteyn, two rather differently gruesome hitch-hiking stories from Alex Muller and Piet Steyn respectively. It closes with Wegkruipertjie, a psycho-thriller piece by François Bloemhof that is so full of suspense, ratcheted up page after page, that I couldn’t help but cheat and flip to the end before turning back to read it through. Perhaps you’ll find you’re made of stuff sterner than me?
A thread of stories about murderous spouses runs through the collection and five of South Africa’s most prolific Afrikaans authors seem to vie to devise the most delicious ‘just deserts’ stories of retribution. These are interspersed with a few tales of ghosts and ghouls that inject bits of the over-the-top scary flights of the imaginative into the ride. Quintus van der Merwe’s Die man met die groot ego, in the middle of the book, escalates the wackiness and is especially funny when you realise the irony of the title.
Between all these, are stories that go much deeper into criminality; go beyond entertainment. In Vuurdoop, Odette Schoeman and Jacques Janse van Rensburg have a rookie policeman tell his spine-chillingly, realistic story set in the Katlehong township during the turbulent early 1990s. Its tension is then dissipated by Deon Meyer’s intricate, cerebral story narrated by a man intent on planning Die perfekte moord of his wife. Then, François Bloemhof wrenches the reader right back again into horrifying reality in Skemer staan vir huis toe gaan, a story about the serial murder of small boys.
You’ll find light relief and escapism in elegant James Bond-like stories of finesse and unlikely derring-do, and haunting tales like Herman Wasserman’s Afspraak, a heart-breaking story told by a traumatised teenaged boy who finds himself incarcerated in a drug rehabilitation centre. You’ll find in Harry Kalmer’s Die nag van die Jägermeisters, a sobering look at the possible consequences of being caught drink-driving in South Africa today. And you’ll find skilfully realised character interplay in another contemporary South African piece by Deon Meyer. His In die bloed, set in our police system, has two very different people partnered to solve a murder mystery.
NOTE: If you’ve read the now out-of-print 2003 collection, Donker veld: Afsprarke op spanningsterrein, you’ll find those eleven stories here again together with a dozen more new stories and new authors writing in the increasingly successful South African crime and suspense genres.
Donker Plekke: Spannings- en misdaadverhale
François Bloemhof, Samesteller en redakteur
Resensent: Moira Richards
Review translated into Afrikaans and published by Rapport on 21 January 2012: http://www.rapport.co.za/Boeke/Nuus/Donker-van-SA-se-psige-ware-riller-2...
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