Blue period. Maggie to the rescue

Karkloof Blue

A Maggie Cloete Mystery

By Charlotte Otter

Modjaji Books

Lie back and think of mysterious KZN. we are, once again, in the presence of the redoubtable Maggie Cloete, scourge of contemporary Zululand villains and their fiendish post-apartheid accomplices. No, this has nothing to do with Nkandla: it is the reassuring reappearance of gutsy Maggie, affectionately known to Charlotte Otter fans in South Africa and Germany from her previous adventures in Balthasar’s Gift.

Certain vivid Balthasar characters reappear in steamy Pietermaritzburg for this second plunge into the wickedly subversive contemporary society that confounds the old image of that sleepy colonial town – now  tottering in shock at its dangerously jazzy reincarnation. Never fear, Maggie is near.

Maggie is a strong woman. She has known bad times and expects more of the same. But there is a crusading bravery beneath the tough exterior of this journalist, whose sanity rests on professional principles which are increasingly threatened by cowed newspaper managements, manipulated by strictly political and commercial interests. Well, we know all about that. Don’t we?

Maggie had endeared herself to a growing German readership (Otter worked in KZN as a journalist before being posted to Heidelberg by her leading international technology employer and her thriller-writing abilities have impressed a lot of South Africans). For a woman with a demanding full-time job, husband and three children, Charlotte O is doing very nicely, thank you.

Clearly, the author is not a model for fierce Maggie, who has a close relationship with her powerful motorcycle, survives on junk food and thinks it sissy to primp for a date with a man. Nevertheless, despite her feminist broodings, she manages to attract a lot of male attention. Which is just as well, given the fact that her investigative journalism tends to arouse the ire of the establishment, both Zulu and white, so the assistance of a some male muscle is welcomed.

This time around, Maggie’s woes include an occasionally psychotic brother, incompetent colleagues, and melancholy memories of a deprived childhood. All of which is useful background for a Nancy Drew who wishes to understand the sufferings of the underprivileged in order to comprehend her society emotionally and professionally.

All this is conveyed sympathetically, but it would have helped if she had been better served by the proof-readers. The text suggests that the tale went to the printers in a hurry, with a score of uncorrected literals, tautologies and other errata. Was it translated from the German, or written in English for translation?

Charlotte Otter

Karkloof is an exciting exercise, so it’s a pity that the telling should have been marred by such careless sub-editing. We trust that Maggie will wreak colourful vengeance on the guilty parties. And we could also use her services in sorting out absurd news priorities and sloppy reporting in sundry South African newspapers right now.

Otter has the rare ability to sustain dramatic interest – the whodunit factor that forces the reader to plough on regardless, in order to unmask the villain. The Karkloof cast includes a choice selection of nogoodnicks, from sneaks to killers, and there is some excellent characterisation of the in-betweens.

Much of the action focuses on a greenies campaign to save the natural forest habitat of the beautiful Karkloof Blue butterfly from corporate baddies. The goodies are a rich mix of New South African relationships.

With a little bit of luck, Maggie might just make it to a TV series. Otter has created a memorable character, and readers will want more of her.

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