Crime fiction with a central detective character is a favourite staple on the bookshelves. All Come To Dust by Bryony Rheam takes the stereotypes, shakes them out of the box and upends expectations. The first few pages take the reader into an “other” place, familiar yet strange. The colours, smells and the noises of suburban Bulawayo are woven throughout this book, creating an atmosphere that leaves a lingering smell of hot concrete, bright bloom bursts and a coating of orange dust on the tongue. A post colonial world that has aged relics from Britain trying to cling on to an outdated way of life while the pulse and chaos of modern Zimbabwe strains to burst through underneath.
Chief Inspector Edmund Dube is a diligent police officer who works methodically with a razor sharp instinct for the truth. Polite, deferential and softly spoken, he’s a man who puts up with the broken typewriters, scuffed shoes and the down at heel environs of his shabby Bulawayo police station. He realises not only is he the wrong person for the job, he is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Forced to ask for a lift from a stranger because the only working police car is being used elsewhere, he is light years away from his cherished schoolboy reading book world of traditional English policing.
At first slightly comical and almost pathetic – we soon come to realise that Edmund Dube is a sharp observant operator.
He is no Adam Dalgleish, Morse or even Poirot but could stand shoulder to shoulder with those literary detective creations as he starts his crime solving. The novel flits between present day and Dube’s 1970s upbringing in a world that has slowly disappeared. A bright African schoolboy, Dube’s childhood memories provide clues to his personality and deliver an intriguing mystery story arc.
Victim Marcia Pullman is the typical suburban social climber, a bully and a snob. Her murder – behind the closed security gates of a house staffed with sullen servants and an obnoxious husband – sparks a classic detective whodunnit. Bryony Rheam deftly draws a colourful cast of believable characters that have flaws, secrets and many human failings.
Chief Inspector Dube has to battle against corruption, ingrained racism and class prejudice as he works his way to the book’s conclusion. Bryony Rheam has created a richly detailed, hugely enjoyable and satisfying crime novel, dense with clues, twists and turns. It’s no surprise that this book has already gained prestigious awards in her native country.
A murder mystery with an African aura that refreshingly skews traditional reference points for English language crime fiction.
All Come to Dust is published by amaBooks and Parthian Books.
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