This isn’t a new title, having been published by Penguin in 2009 and brought for me by friend Mark during the infamous Exclusives.co.za firesale of 2010 for about R15. Now I don’t usually read crime novels (I used to until Patricia Cornwall ruined everything) and I usually don’t read local crime fiction because well, its on the news too. But I was looking for an easy read in the time of tonsillitis and so Exhibit A volunteered itself after Travels With A Roadkill Rabbit was just too painful twenty pages in. (I hate reading novels that read like self-indulgent travel blogs. It really is a mom gushing about her holiday with her perfect family; I barf in my scorn.)
Anyway, so Exhibit A. A lawyer mostly overworked, terrifically clumsy and nicotine-riddled takes up a court case on behalf of a young woman raped by a policeman in a police station. Set in the fair Cape with a small, entertaining cast, Georgie Allen (Cape Town’s worst-dressed lawyer) tries to find out if Nina was lying, if everyone else is actually telling the truth, and what really happened on a cold Friday night at the Barryville police station. No gore and with a sharp eye aimed at all the charming prejudices of South Africans, it was free of the cliché and sleaze that so often accompanies crime novels. My favourite character is the dog, Exhibit A. A proper brakhound as fierce and loyal as any companion one could hope for, he is far more endearing than any of the other characters, and I was most gleeful when (spoilers!) Georgie chooses to get Exhibit A back rather than sleep with the rather pedestrian Rachel. As a pet-lover and avowed enemy of the shoehorned love story, this pleased me greatly.
I don’t have many gripes with the story, but the author could have held off on writing out the accent of Patrick, the Scottish advocate. It has become almost verboten to write accents, as it is considered ham-handed and often poorly reflective of the actual accent itself. It also disrupts the actual flow of the sentence, as the ‘pronounced’ words looked misspelled amongst the normal spelling, unlike actual sentences from another language. I know this is one of the reasons why I don’t really enjoy Pratchett’s Wintersmith series; the accent of the Wee Free Men grates upon my eyes like a furious cheese grater. Whether its Cockney in Victorian literature (Oh, Arthur Conan Doyle) or Scottish brogue amongst South African English, it just mangles the writing. How many times does one need to see ‘fooking’ before getting the point? A personal point, but still worth mentioning.
In any case, Cape Town and all its folks was a well-handled setting, and the crime itself was fascinating. Georgie would make for a good television show, being self-depreciating without being unbearable like Victoria in Language of Flowers. It makes for good reading when one can sympathise with the shortcomings of the protagonist, instead of disliking them as much as they do themselves.
I’m not sure hardcore crime fans will dig it, since there isn’t as much gore and ruined female flesh as crime seems to be burgeoning with, but the story was honest and the characters interesting and there was far less artifice and deus ex machina that litters crime novels these days. (I really have no respect for authors who start every book with a destroyed female body and then add ten more before the book is through in clichéd gore porn.) Exhibit A is dry and funny and a quick read. Sure, it won’t appease the gore fans, but that’s why I enjoyed it.
And maybe Cape Townians will enjoy the references more than I could.