written by Isabel Ritchie
This past Tuesday evening, The Book Lounge was flooded by readers eager for the launch of Priscilla Holmes’ debut novel Now I See You, “a tough-cookie cop adventure”, as described by fellow South African crime writer Joanne Hichens.
Priscilla was in conversation with famed journalist and author, Tim Butcher. They are friends, and this lent a fun, easy, chatty air to the interview. It also gave Tim the elbow room to saucily suggest that the sex scenes in the book are too good to not be true. After praising the well-written erotic moments (there’s sex in a toilet cubicle, and even naked Twister), Butcher engaged Priscilla about how Now I See You has “layers like an onion” which unpeel as the book progresses.
Holmes revealed that she was inspired by the true story of a young, gifted girl from a remote valley in the Eastern Cape, who was the first child from the community to be educated. She walked 10km every day, through all weather, to reach the farm school, and later acquired a bursary for a prestigious Grahamstown high school. This is the point where fiction took over from fact. Holmes’ protagonist became feisty Detective Inspector Thabisa Tswane, who leaves the valley (she thinks for good) to pursue a high profile police career in Jozi. Fourteen years later, a violent crimes case takes her back to her roots, and we start to see glimpses of the hidden layers that Tswane is comprised of.
The metaphor of an onion unpeeling as the book progresses can apply to all the main characters – which includes the villains, as well as to the various places where the novel is set. As we learn more about their pasts, unexpected subtleties are unearthed.
The significance of place is a key aspect of this “racy, pacy crime thriller”. The red hilled Eastern Cape valley of DI Tswane’s childhood, the bustling metropolis of Johannesburg, the brown and red carpeted police safe house in Grahamstown, and the various environments the criminals inhabit in their pasts and present, are etched vividly into the reader’s imagination. Colours, smells, and personalities of local inhabitants are all used to enhance the value each setting holds for a character, and then we get to see another layer of the character unfold as they themselves are transformed by their locations.
During the Q&A session with the audience, Priscilla predicted that her characters will outlive her. They are irrepressible, they occupy her dreams, and they take her writing to places she never expected or planned to go to. She actually set out to write an adventure story, a quest featuring the girl who leaves the valley, and it spontaneously turned into crime fiction. Luckily for us, the end of Now I See You is not the last we’ll see of DI Tswane – she and her fellow characters have insisted that they will be appearing again.
Standing didn’t dampen the mood (it was so well attended that half the crowd didn’t get seats) – afterwards, a long queue formed for book signing by Priscilla, all the copies of Now I See You at the venue sold out, and it was clear that everyone involved, including the Modjaji team, was buzzing with satisfaction.
To see more pictures go to the Modjaji Books Facebook page.