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Murder mystery in Bulawayo

ALL COME to DUST, by Bryony Rheam

Reviewed by Diana Rodrigues

‘amaBooks, 463 pp., $20, November 2020, ISBN 978-1-77906-080-8


FORTY percent of the novels in my book club belong to the crime fiction genre, and while it would be beyond surprising to learn that any of the learned ladies I meet every month had ever committed a felony, there’s no doubt that there is always some dignified jostling to take home the latest murder mystery novel by crime writer Ann Cleeves. Fictional character Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope, a cranky, overweight, middle-aged spinster, was supposed to appear in a standalone novel by Cleeves, but the unglamorous yet competent detective was so appealing, that she featured in a long-running TV series.

Writer Bryony Rheam launches murder mystery novel All Come to Dust.

Crime fiction is globally one of the biggest selling literary genres, and this bodes well for Bryony Rheam’s latest novel, All Come to Dust. In this gripping whodunnit, we can confront our darkest fears from the safety of an armchair, puzzle about several dark and complex characters and their unspeakable activities, and sift through the clues and red herrings in a murder mystery set in the suburbs of Bulawayo.

Rheam writes with wit and humour, but at times the plot becomes so dark as to make the reader distinctly uncomfortable. A shining light amidst the uncertainty is the character of Detective Chief Inspector Edmund Dube. Although policing in Zimbabwe didn’t conform to the expectations and images he had imagined as a school boy, he remains dedicated to his career, and to ‘keeping the people of Bulawayo safe and sound’. Most of his time, however, is taken up by the paper work of filling in charge sheets relating to ‘speeding offences or drunken driving’. All this changes when DCI Edmund Dube is called to reception, where the duty officer informs him that ‘an ikhiwa woman …. I mean a white lady’, had been stabbed to death in her bed in nearby Suburbs.

From here the narrative takes off at breakneck speed. DCI Dube, in search of transport to the crime scene, commandeers an elderly fawn-coloured Renault 4 from Craig Martin, a shabby forty-something individual with a mullet hair style. Reluctantly Craig drives the inspector to a house in Suburbs, where business woman Marcia Pullman lies dead on her bed, a silver paper knife sticking out of her chest.

It’s difficult to respect Marcia Pullman, even in death, as we learn early on that she was snobbish and a bully, both at home and at work. Having a keen eye for antiques, bought cheaply from impoverished elderly people, and exported to South Africa to be sold at a vast profit, she had little regard for the welfare of others. It would seem that she was unpopular and probably unloved, as, even her husband seemed unmoved by her demise.

A raft of interesting characters are introduced, many possibly having a motive to murder Marcia, and there are many red herrings designed to keep the reader guessing. Unexpectedly, Craig Martin develops a friendship with DCI Dube. Providing transport for the detective in his trusty R4, he also agrees to shadow suspects engaged in nefarious activities in the sanitary lane, where he narrowly escapes death.

DCI Dube is very much a loner, and gets little support from his fellow officers, who seem on occasion to treat him as a joke. This doesn’t deter him from his duty, and he vows to discover Marcia’s killer, although his superior takes him off the case twice. After interviewing everyone who has been in contact with Marcia, he lies sleepless in bed, going over every possibility and considering every suspect. Feeling neglected, Dube’s wife Mary spends most of her waking hours leaning over the fence and chatting to neighbours.

The plot takes many twist and turns, but our sympathy is always with DCI Dube, and we’re confident he’ll catch his man. Or will it be a woman?

All Come to Dust is a clever mystery novel, filled with surprise reveals and unexpected events, none more surprising than the final denouement. There is more than a hint in Rheam’s style of Agatha Christie, best known for her detective novels, and said to be the world’s best-selling author of all time. In 2015, Bryony Rheam won an international competition based on writing a chapter of a novel in the style of Agatha Christie. The prize included a grand dinner party at Agatha’s house in Torquay, Devon, hosted by the late author’s grandson, Matthew Pritchard.

A volume of short stories by Bryony Rheam is soon to be published by amaBooks Publishers and Parthian Books, and there is much to look forward to from this prolific author.

The best detective novels are page turners, with the reader drawn into a relationship with all the characters. In All Come to Dust, DCI Edmund Dube, for all his failings, is someone we admire and feel close to. If Rheam continues the series, and allows him to pursue his career, DCI Dube could become one of crime fiction’s detective greats.