Book review: City of Blood by

Book review: City of Blood by South African crime writer MD Villiers

The debut novel by South African crime writer MD Villiers was shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger and is a compelling read.

Book review: City of Blood by

City of Blood is MD Villiers’ first novel and it is a crime thriller set in the dark corners of street war territory in Johannesburg. It is dedicated to the memory of Sabelo Ntose, who died on 12 March 2003, accused of stealing cooking oil, tortured and tied to a railway line by a mob in the Sweet Home squatter camp in Nyanga, Cape Town.

This dedication more or less sets the tone for this tough coming-of-age story of two young men, the orphaned Siphiwe and the slightly older Progress, a gangster, in the lawless ‘city of gold’. There is a third man, a white policeman called Adrian Gerber, who steers the story round many unexpected corners.

After helping a stabbed mango seller on the street, Siphiwe promises to find her missing son, who is in hiding and is the reason for the stabbing. Quickly but unwittingly he gets caught between rival gangs and the police, and has to find a way to survive and protect those he cares about.

I specifically didn’t read up on the Johanneburg-born author before reading the book. I could have sworn it was written by a man, possibly a Gauteng cop, but definitely somebody in-the-know and streetwise. Instead I find she is a pretty blonde who now lives in London, a former tennis coach and Pretoria University psychology graduate. Her friends call her Martie.

City of Blood has been longlisted for the CWA John Creasey Dagger for published debut writers this year (2013) and it is a damned good and compelling read. Although her style, which is quite carefully slow-paced and precise, doesn’t sweep you off your feet immediately, it gradually draws you deeper and deeper into a complex, credible turf war between two crime lords, ‘The Nigerian’ and local crime boss McCarthy Letswe, who he has forced into exile. And then there’s the formidable Grace, ‘mother’ of the shelter where Siphiwe lives and Letswe’s beautiful mistress, Lucille – both real characters brought vividly to life in this story of survival.

CITY OF BLOOD by South African crime writer MD Villiers, is published in the UK by Harvill Secker.

Harvill Secker, London £12.99 (Paperback)

ISBN 97811846557149