Killer Countryby Kavish Chetty / 16.08.2010
In the pulpiest of prose, Nicol wrenches out and strips away all the layers: he leaves this country turned inside out, a desert wasteland of greed and corruption. It’s only in novels with plots like this that you find people with names like Mace Bishop and Pylon Buso; perfectly idiotic names, with a bludgeoning and unlyrical dimension to them. Then there’s Sheemina February, supposedly a slim, sexy lawyer, but with a name like that? She sounds like the squat Muslim woman who lived next door to me in my childhood, with doughy deposits of dimples bulging on her cheeks.
The names are modelled after the prose style; a style where a two syllable word is one syllable too long. Nicol’s writing is short and jabbing, like a midget pugilist. It’s as though he’s gone through his writing with a scalpel, tearing out all the pronouns and definite articles. The result is lean and amputated prose, deliberately celebrating the aesthetics of illiteracy, but which comes off sounding a little artificial; a little insincere. This novel reads like its characters think, i.e, not at all. They’re an unsympathetic bunch, all motivated by self-interest and greed; they all double-cross and triple-cross. They murder and lust and covet in a sordid spectacle of one-dimensional avarice. And then you come across another fellow who was cursed at birth with the name Obed Chocho: what’s his gimmick? He can’t stop saying “Mighty fine.” Not a single conversation with him goes by without him uttering this positively inane catch-phrase. I starting scribbling down a hit-list of times he used the phrase. By the time I reached 50, my penmanship was suffering as my fingers trembled. It’s just bad writing, clichéd, embarrassing.
Of course, crime drama like this isn’t about pretty paragraphs. It’s about plot. Killer Country has a chapter layout that follows a group of high-profile killers and judges and higher-ups and at only about the 100th page do their stories start to properly intersect. When they do, then there’s excitement to be had. There’s suspense and intrigue and the fantastic promise of zigzagging objectives and things going wrong. It requires you to develop a taste for Nicol’s idiosyncratic writing style – and if, unlike me, you don’t become frustrated and exhausted after the first couple of pages, then the whole vicious and violent odyssey is going to be quite gripping.
I leave you with the opening paragraph, which is emblematic of the style, and probably one the most enjoyably local introductions to a novel I’ve read so far. It’ll either tempt you or just give you a quick laugh:
“Pollsmoor Prison, 6 a.m. The chief warder frowned. No birdsong. No cacophony. There was kak in the land. You didn’t need to be a bloody prophet to know this. The hell of it was he’d just eaten a decent breakfast – thick bacon slices, two eggs, fried tomato, fried banana, toast fried in the grease. The one advantage of the first shift, a breakfast like that. If the old cookie was on duty. The old cookie a lifer with one eye who escaped being dangled over the long drop when hanging was scrapped. All because of the new constitution. The old cookie who should’ve been dropped for all the grief he caused. Other hand, the old cookie did a helluva breakfast.”