When an old college friend pays Alex Calder an unexpected visit he is drawn once more into the shady dealings of the City – and in particular back to Bloomfield Weiss, the investment bank he’d hoped he'd left well behind.
For Kim is married to Todd van Zyl, son of South African newspaper tycoon Cornelius van Zyl. Todd wants Alex’s help to investigate the murder of his mother, shot at a game reserve near Cape Town eighteen years ago.
Todd has always believed his mother was killed by guerrillas – but the recent discovery of a letter written by her shortly before her death now suggests a crime far closer to home. And it seems Alex’s old enemy at Bloomfield Weiss holds the key to the mystery.
Unfortunately Todd’s suspicions have stirred up a nest of vipers – with deadly repercussions…
Writing See No Evil…
I suppose that the idea for See No Evil came in two parts. I wanted to write about a newspaper takeover battle, and I wanted to write about a wealthy family and its secrets. There are of course some very prominent newspaper families, one can name an Australian and a Canadian pretty quickly, not forgetting dear old Robert Maxwell. So in an attempt to make sure that my family could not be mistaken for any of these, I decided to make them South African. Now, family secrets are best if they have been hidden a long time, and darkest if they are to do with murder. So I decided that my South African newspaper tycoon had lost his wife in suspicious circumstances twenty years ago.
Twenty years ago was just before the fall of apartheid, a time when the newspapers, especially some of the English-language newspapers, were at the forefront of opposition to the regime. I decided to make my newspaper tycoon an Afrikaner, named Cornelius van Zyl, who owned some English language newspapers, and who opposed apartheid, and his wife a liberal American woman. Like most newspaper owners, Cornelius had several wives, and several more children. Suddenly there was a tangle of loyalties: Cornelius is torn between loyalty to his Afrikaner heritage and loyalty to his ideals, his wife is torn between her duty to her husband and her duty to her conscience, their offspring don’t know whether they are South African or American and have a choice of parents to owe their allegiance to. And in the middle of all this, Cornelius's wife, Martha, is murdered.
I have always tried to avoid the appearance of an anonymous body on page one, and in this case I wanted the reader to feel sympathy for, and understand Martha's character. Which was tricky since she died in 1988. So I decided to include Martha’s diary, which was written in 1988 and takes up about a quarter of the book. This had two effects, it made the events of that time seem more immediate, and it allowed me to explore Martha’s character as her life fell apart. But it made pacing the book, and in particular keeping track of who knew what when, quite complicated.
In this second Alex Calder book, Calder starts off outside the City in the relative calm of the little airfield in Norfolk he bought when he left. I wanted to give him a hard time in this book, and indeed he suffers quite badly, mostly as a result of his tendency to take a risk too many. This is his weakness, it’s what gets him into trouble, but also what gets him out of it again.
I love writing about ethical dilemmas. The financial world is full of them, and there are plenty of them in this book. Many of these are political and revolve around the question, if you were a white South African living under apartheid, what would you do? The liberal west, or is it north, have been quick to condemn white South Africans for simply being born there, but that is too easy. It is much more difficult to consider the options open to white people then: you can participate in violent revolt in which you kill or be killed, join a non-violent protest when you wind up in jail and lose your job, support parliamentary protest where nothing happens, or you can choose to look the other way: see no evil of the title. Blacks faced a more difficult time, of course, and I rather wish now I had included a black South African in the book, although a black American investment banker plays a significant role.
I like to think that all my books are carefully researched. I enjoyed finding out about the newspaper business, and about South Africa both before and after apartheid. Among the places I visited the wine area around Stellenbosch and a game reserve in the Low Veld. Both places were beautiful; the whole country is beautiful. But the violence and poverty nurtured under apartheid lives on. There are no easy answers. I was extremely impressed by the restraint shown by South Africans, black and white, against their former enemies. The country deserves to succeed.
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