Present Darkness by Malla Nunn, Review: Pageturner with depth

Review Summary: The world-wise, snappy dialogue in Malla Nunn’s Present Darkness, no holes barred action and uncensored brutality places it squarely in the category of ‘page-turner’.

Present Darkness Synopsis:

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Present Darkness by Malla Nunn

Five days before Christmas, Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper sits at his desk at the Johannesburg major crimes squad, ready for his holiday in Mozambique. A call comes in: A respectable white couple has been assaulted and left for dead in their bedroom. The couple’s teenage daughter identifies the attacker as Aaron Shabalala – the youngest son of Zulu Detective Constable Samuel Shabalala – Cooper’s best friend and a man to whom he owes his life. The Detective Branch isn’t interested in evidence that might contradict their star witness’s story, especially so close to the holidays.

Determined to ensure justice for Aaron, Cooper, Shabalala, and their trusted friend Dr. Daniel Zweigman hunt for the truth. Their investigation uncovers a violent world of Sophiatown gangs, thieves, and corrupt government officials who will do anything to keep their dark world intact.

Written by: Malla Nunn, Narrated by: Rupert Degas
Length: 8 hrs and 7 mins, Bolinda Publishing Pty Ltd 


Malla Nunn’s Present Darkness is almost everything you could ask for in a novel — meaningful context, a complex mystery underlying an action-packed and compelling plot, and strong, memorable characters.

This title is the fourth in Nunn’s Emmanuel Cooper Mystery Series set in South Africa in the early 1950s, the dark days of apartheid. No matter how well informed or passionate about the inequities people faced at that time, we can realistically be nothing other than a sympathetic observer unless we had personally experienced living our lives under that regime. Nunn avoids lofty altruism, employing her enviable talents in characterisation to humanise the myriad impacts of the regime on everyday lives.

Do not make the mistake of categorising fiction set in this historical context as passe – in relative terms, this is very recent history and an important reminder how gross inequity can easily be mandated within ‘organised’ society.

What really struck a chord with me was both Nunn and lead protagonist Cooper’s acknowledgement of the many shades of grey that invariably exist in the real world. Cooper is a fascinating and powerful character, straddling the metaphorical lines of black and white in countless aspects of his life. He is a man of deep conviction and bravery, but one who must accept that the ends justify the means in order to survive and protect friends and family. In my opinion, the character device Nunn uses to draw out Cooper’s inner conflict in such situations is a masterstroke.

But Cooper is not the only skilfully crafted character within Present Darkness. The multi-faceted Shabalala and Zweigman are wholly endearing and the dialogue, and humour, between the unlikely trio within even the most dire of situations a rare treat.

Audiobook narration

I have really connected with Rupert Degas’ narration in the past (The Canterville Ghost) and his performance in this audiobook was more of the same. His differentiation between the many and varied characters – age, ethnicity and attitude – and timing and nuance, made Present Darkness a pleasure to listen to. (Listen to an audio sample)

World-wise, snappy dialogue, no holes barred action and uncensored brutality places Present Darkness squarely in the category of ‘page-turner’.

If you are looking for high-quality fiction and an entertaining thriller, I cannot recommend Malla Nunn’s Present Darkness more highly. My only regret is not having joined this Emmanuel Cooper Series earlier. I eagerly await the release of Nunn’s next title.

BOOK RATING: The Story 5 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5 — Overall 4.75

Get your copy of Present Darkness from:

Amazon| Booktopia(Aus) | Book Depository | B&N

OR listen to the audiobook FREE with Audible’s Trial (check eligibility)

Genre: Crime-Detective, Thriller, Mystery, Action-Adventure

This review counts towards my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge 2015 and the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015.

About the Author, Malla Nunn

Malla Nunn was born in Swaziland, southern Africa, but moved to Australia in the 1970s. She studied theatre in America, where she met her husband and began writing and directing short films, three of which – Fade to White, Sweetbreeze and Servant of the Ancestors – won numerous awards and have been shown at international festivals from Zanzibar to New York City. Her first novel, A Beautiful Place to Die (2009), was published internationally and won the Sisters in Crime Davitt Award for Best Adult Crime Novel by an Australian female author. It was also shortlisted in the prestigious US Edgar Awards for Best Novel. Let the Dead Lie was highly commended in the Ellis Peters Historical Crime Awards. Malla and her husband live in Sydney with their two children.