Read of the Week

The Score

HJ Golakai

Kwela Books

Review: Brian Joss

Voinjama “Vee” Johnson is a Liberian investigative journalist working in Cape Town for an online publication, the City Chronicle, together with Chloe Bishop, the intern she is mentoring.

Vee’s forte is the crime beat and she is being given a second chance after what she did in the Paulsen case, which featured in Golakai’s first book, The Lazarus Effect.

Vee and Bishop, who “doesn’t do villages”, are sent to Oudtshoorn to write a puff piece about the Grotto Lodge, which is aiming to get a three-star grading in the wake of the Soccer World Cup.

As a hard-nosed journalist, it goes against her grain, but reluctantly, Vee agrees.

And instead of spending the weekend in luxury, the pair end up in a boot camp, a rough-it extension of the lodge.

Tired of living such a spartan existence, even if it’s just for the weekend, they climb the fence from no-man’s land to the “luxury lodge” when they find themselves at a government-sponsored conference where the participants can win a shed-load of funding, including tenders, and get other perks.

Two bodies are discovered: Rhonda Greenwood, the deputy general manager of the lodge, who Vee met at a training conference a year previously, and Gavin Berman who was strangled, apparently with Vee’s distinctive purple scarf.

Berman was the partner in a finance company with Ahkona Moloi. The reporters’ investigation leads them to a network of cybercrime, a web of corruption involving BEE; a consulting scam and some new software.

The prime suspect is Xoliswa Gaba, an IT genius who developed the Scalpel, a BEE evaluation tool, but wasn’t given the credit – or the money for it.

While Vee (and Chloe who sometimes behaves like a Kugel) are intent on exposing the killer and the extent of the corruption, Vee has to wrestle with her conflicted love life. And sort out the office politics.

There is a kidnapping; Vee calls in a favour from a Nigerian gang boss; there are “nanny cams” in the bedrooms which catch the killer in the act, as well as the thief who has been plaguing the lodge.

There are numerous red herrings which will keep you guessing until the last page.

The dialogue is scattered with Liberian patois, which is sometimes hard to decode. But it only adds to the quirkiness of this unusual thriller, the second in the Vee Johnson Mystery series. Golakai’s characters are credible and the interplay between Vee and Chloe bring humour to a tense situation, and it’s not always PC. The Score will grip you from page 1.