A beautiful Zulu girl named Amahle is found lying dead in the open. There is no apparent mark upon her, and the body has been laid out as if she were sleeping, covered with wildflowers. Amahle, a daughter of the Zulu chief from his third wife, lived in his compound and worked as a housemaid at the large farm nearby. She has been poisoned with a small shot in her back.
This is South Africa, and everything is touched by the institutionalized racism known as apartheid. Amahle lived a divided life:
she had status in the Zulu world from her fatherís position and her beauty, but
she could never be more than a second-class citizen in the white world, although her beauty there drew attention. That attention could be a double-edged sword.
It could bring her attention other servants didnít receive, but that attention
was not all positive.
Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper and his subordinate, Detective Constable Samuel Shabalala, are sent from the city to investigate. Cooper was recently reinstated as a police sergeant when his mixed-race designation was changed to make him an official white person again. Raised as a white person, his enemies had conspired to have his racial designation changed, and he lived in the world between white and black for a time, learning much about both worlds. This is his first murder case after his reinstatement, and his success is critical to secure his place on the force.
There are plenty of suspects. Amahle was about to be married off to an elderly man for her bride price by her father. There are the usual tribal jealousies that arise in a multi-wife compound, as each wife fights for their children to be the most favored. To all indications, Amahle wanted more than a traditional tribal life and may have been using her beauty as her ticket out to a different life in the city. There is a white boy, strange at best and perhaps mentally ill, running in the hills and disrupting the investigation. The local police are actively interfering in the investigation. The whites in power fight against being investigated, pulling in favors from their influential friends to hinder Cooper whenever he gets close to a secret they donít want uncovered. Can Cooper push through all the difficulties to find the murderer?
Blessed Are the Dead is the third book in Malla Nunnís Emmanuel Cooper series. Cooper is a man of contradictions who lives in the netherworld between the highly segregated social structures separating those in the native culture from those in power. He must not only face the difficulties of a murder investigation but fight the rigid rules of this society to succeed. The reader is transported to this alternate world
to learn about native culture as well as the strictures of apartheid. The plotting is well-done, and the eventual unmasking of the murderer is a surprise that will have readers eager for more of Cooperís adventures.
Recommended for mystery readers.