This was my first time reading a book that I couldn’t hold in my hand. I have tried reading E-books before and have simply given up (something I try never to do) because of the discomfort I feel when reading a novel from a screen. Aside from that I am extremely pleased that I made the effort to read this entire book. Perhaps I should rather say that I in no way felt that it was an ‘effort’ to read because the novel really is that good. I have not read a lot of fantasy and oddly enough the little that I have read has been by South African authors. As a fellow South African I have an enormous amount of appreciation for writers that are able to tackle the extremely dense and complicated array of myths and folklore that make up our very eclectic culture. I became a huge fan of Zakes Mda at university, and then later on with Lauren Beaukes – these are two very different South African authors but both have used magic realism and/or folklore within their narratives. I am of course not trying to do a comparison here but I find that when I really resonate with a story I tend to do that.
So, to get to the task of discussing Jevon Brown’s The Scavenging (2018) I will consider the two really great genres that he seems to have melded together so beautifully. The crime story that involves two very different detectives, Gideon Jansen and Hadley Ncumise who are working on the murder cases of one elder man, the owner of a metal factory and that of a mystery woman found not far from the same factory in a deserted veld (dry brush land). Jansen is a staunch Afrikaaner very set in his ways and preparing for his inevitable retirement. Ncumise on the other hand is young and enthusiastic, ready to solve his first case. It is understandable that the two people’s deaths are automatically linked with one another. With the gritty outlying areas of Johannesburg as the backdrop to the crime there is also an element of local noir that I appreciate.
The other element that is really fascinating is the use of the supernatural. We are introduced to some pretty intriguing characters, one of which is the woman found murdered in the veld, and the other is the rather mysterious Lancaster. With his pale skin, English accent and dark clothes he appears to be the perfect villain. However not everything is as it seems. Behind closed doors there are other secrets that begin to slowly reveal themselves among the suspects that Jansen and Ncumise are forced to interrogate. All of a sudden the detectives become unwittingly dragged into plots and forces unknown and clearly beyond the physical. Both detectives are forced to reevaluate their beliefs and even their own codes of conduct and sense of morality and indeed even reality.
Besides the detectives and the victims we are also introduced to a very enigmatic Sangoma (witch doctor) Refilwe, the sangoma’s young acolyte Tembi, Sbu,an animal tracker employed to find muti (local medicine used by sangomas), and another mysterious woman who may or may not be completely human. Finally we have the continual presence of ‘the scavengers’ – an assortment of hyenas and vultures that seem to be closing in on the real story behind the murders, Lancaster and the sangomas.
I loved the banter between Jansen and Gcumise as they attempt to not only solve this very complicated case, but to also learn to understand each other. South Africa is extraordinarily diverse in terms of location, culture, language and nationality and despite this through the detective’s own admissions and encounters with the supernatural it becomes quite clear how connected they really are.
In terms of criticism all I can mention is the fact that this novel raced far too quickly towards its conclusion. I could quite happily have read a few extra pages if only to flesh out the final discoveries. That said I am so very pleased I read this novel. It’s fantastic!