German Crime Prize Winner 2017

Translated from German by Rachel Hildebrandt Reynolds (2019)

When his old Toyota gives up the ghost, and he can’t call for help because his mobile is out of juice, Moses thinks that he’ll ask a college friend for help. Once he has sneaked into The Pines gated community, he just has to remember where the house is. Though that is not such a good idea, given that he is a black man in scruffy clothes and The Pines is predominately white-inhabited. When he is approached by two white men, one with a taser, the other brandishing a club, he doesn’t hang around to see if they will believe his story. This turns out to be a bad mistake.

In another part of the estate, two house burglars (a man and wife) are sussing out potential properties. They take advantage of a house with open windows. They find a significant stash of cash. It’s their lucky day! Then they find something that changes their mind, particularly when they become trapped in the house ….

… because Moses’s suspicious behaviour has alerted the security guards, who are now congregrating outside the house they wish to leave.

Stories about the black man on the loose begin to emerge, growing in severity much like chinese whispers. Though in defending himself when almost captured, Moses has not helped himself. The size of the search unit grows. The police are called in. Dogs. Tensions rise and Moses is stuck in a kind of Groundhog Day afternoon as he tries to get “over the wall” or out of the gated community.

The two burglars aren’t faring so well either. I won’t say much about this except that there is a lot of black comedy (pun unintended) in their predicament, and it would be extremely funny if the novel’s theme weren’t so serious. Strike that, it’s very funny nevertheless.

Annas’s novel takes place over two intense hours during which time The Pines gated community serves as a microcosm for South African society as a whole and demonstrates the dangers of casual racism and group hysteria. It does use stereotypes and statements that might cause offence, but a novel about racism cannot fail to show it. The pace never slows but time does. There is a 25-second slow-motion sequence which highlights the point of no return and leads to … at this point I shall refer you to the book jacket and leave you wondering as to who gets out alive.