Book Review: Red Tide will sweep the reader along

Spring flowers in full bloom near Laingsburg in the Karoo. Picture: Mike Hutchings

Spring flowers in full bloom near Laingsburg in the Karoo. Picture: Mike Hutchings

Published Dec 1, 2022


Red Tide

Irma Venter


Review: Beryl Eichenberger

I first came across Irma Venter’s crime thrillers earlier this year and immediately got hooked on her inventive storytelling. Red Tide is her latest offering, originally published as Skarlaken in Afrikaans in 2015. She has established her status as a crime writer of note, and in Red Tide she has certainly cracked it. Venter’s career as a journalist has offered her much source material - after all we live in South Africa and every day brings more challenges - rich fodder for anyone considering a crime writing career!

Suspenseful and with three dimensional characters, the plot is original and quite far removed from what one could expect. This is a compelling story with chilling and vivid descriptions that take you into the heart of the Karoo landscape and a small tight knit community. It’s a story of never giving up. A need to find the truth, however uncomfortable that might be, and at the same time to find some peace. And the exposure of secrets that are all too damaging. And it’s an unlikely couple who come together to solve a cold case.

Those familiar with Venter’s previous books will welcome the return of the rather wacky, socially inept, motor bike riding, convicted hacker extraordinaire Sarah Fourie. She’s tough and resilient and her talent for uncovering the secrets of people’s lives through technology are terrifyingly real. But she is also in a sad place, struggling to come to terms with her father’s death and unable to face her grieving mother. But her intuitive skills are sharp and perhaps her own grief gives her greater understanding of why Jaap Reyneke, retired top cop, can’t let this rest and asks for her help.

Both stubborn to the core they make a good pair. Stubborn because it is three years since Jaap’s niece, promising artist and businesswoman Janien was found dead in her wedding dress on the family farm a week before her wedding. Suicide or murder? But the body was left in such a way, with certain accessories that it almost appeared to be an art installation. Hardly a suicide you would say. Macabre - yes, and pointing towards murder. For Jaap it is an ongoing itch, a boil that needs lancing but he can’t find the core. He’s desperate for answers and, after three years, Janien’s mother Vonnie is desperate to move on… and about to burn all of Janien’s possessions. And that includes the computer which Sarah is able to snaffle. Each year, Jaap has returned to the scene stirring up emotions, creating tension for his sister and husband Obie and this is all about to explode. For Sarah the fact that Janien’s computer was wiped clean sends up red flags and what she discovers is disquieting and dangerous.

As revealing as it is startling, the trail leads to unexpected places. The power of visual art, jealousy and close knit friendships with a highly competitive edge, move towards a burning fall out.

When art can be a means to discover identity and red is the primary colour, our investigators have to use all their resources to put the pieces together, and beat the clock on a date that is the key. Sarah and Jaap are two characters who play off each other in a mesmerising rhythm which will hold you in suspense.

Venter has the capacity to ratchet up the pace notch by notch until you are unconsciously holding your breath. Expect to have an increased heart rate as you turn the pages.

Venter is the mistress of small details as centimetre by centimetre we move towards the truth. She takes us on a journey that crosses the country and up to Namibia until the final confrontation. Her plot is intricate but the reader is always able to follow without having to turn back to see what happened. She has her finger on the pulse. And a word on translator, Karin Schimke, whose skill has brought this story to the English market. I’m looking forward to more of Venter and her sleuths!