By Darren Gilbert
South Africa is suffering a fertility crisis. No one knows the reasons why. At the same time, the country is in the grips of one of its worst water crises ever. If people aren’t dying from dehydration or cholera, there is a ‘SuperBug’ making its way through the population. And then there are the crippling blackouts.
Welcome to the setting of JT Lawrence’s
second novel, Why You Were Taken
. Falling within the science fiction genre, this is a dystopian novel with a dose of crime fiction added in for good measure.
And it’s a really good read.
At just over 350 pages, Why You Were Taken
starts with Kirsten Lovell’s story. An award-winning photographer, she has a condition known as synaesthesia: there are no walls between her senses. Kirsten “tastes shapes, feels flavours, smells words, hears colours and sees sound”. Her husband’s energy is described as “warm yellow-orange-ruby, sweet, with a sharp echo”. Marmalade James, she calls him. She also desperately wants a baby.
There is also Seth Denicker. A chemgineer with a penchant for designer drugs and women, he’s aloof, arrogant and alone. The total opposite of Kirsten.
And then, weaved between these two narratives is a series of journal entries from an unnamed woman between 1987 and 1989, detailing her personal life and pregnancy.
At the beginning of Lawrence’s novel, Kirsten is depressed. Besides struggling to fall pregnant, she’s also dealing with the loss of her parents. Recently murdered, but the police aren’t making any headway with the case. A robbery gone wrong, they say. Not satisfied with their answer, she turns to a journalist friend, Kekeletso (Keke) for help.
Slowly but surely, the duo put together the pieces. However, just as they get closer to the truth about her parents’ murder, people start dying. The police brush these deaths as the result of the ‘Suicide Contagion’. However, Kirsten and Keke think there is something sinister going on.
Meanwhile, Seth takes a job at Fontus, the largest soda and water-bottler in the country with the sole government contract to supply subsidised bottled water. However, he hasn’t joined them to make money. He suspects something is rotten and he wants to find out, even if it means bedding a fellow employee to get answers.
While Why You Were Taken
starts off slow – the style is more literary-mystery than fast-paced action thriller – by the end of the first chapter, I felt compelled to read on … just to see where it took me. By the end of chapter four, I found myself completely immersed. Come bedtime, I had finished it.
This is not to say that this is a book that you should read in one sitting. There is far too much detail and nuance that will be lost if you rush through it. In fact, thinking of this novel as a quick read will do it an injustice. Instead, it’s a novel worth savouring.
In saying that, it’s also worth reading Why You Were Taken
a second time (and a third) just to pick up the bread crumbs that Lawrence scatters throughout the novel.
Why You Were Taken
is a thinking man’s thriller with enough intrigue to keep you turning the page. It’s also a welcome addition to local bookshelves.
Why You Were Take is published by Pulp Books. For more information, connect with JT Lawrence on Facebook or on Twitter.