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Sunday, 13 September 2009 02:00

Exhibit A

By  Karina Magdalena Szczurek
In her debut novel Pompidou Posse, Sarah Lotz told the moving story of a friendship between two young women, trying to find their place in the world while negotiating the many dangers of life in the streets of Paris in the 1980s. Her second offering is a gripping crime novel entitled Exhibit A which also places an unusual friendship at its centre. This time it is the alliance between lawyer Georgie Allen and advocate Patrick McLennan, who take up the defence in a tricky rape case. They are accompanied by Exhibit A of the title, a homeless dog best at scrolfing (making the sound which reminds Georgie of "a combination of grunts and the same liquid smacking noises my granddad used to make whenever he ate a chop without his dentures in"). Together, the three embark on a mission to understand the intricate web of callousness, corruption, deceptions and human weaknesses which make up case in which a young woman accuses a policeman of rape.

As in her previous novel, Lotz again displays a knack for making challenging, not readily likeable, characters real and sympathetic. Georgie is so clumsy, unkempt, and hung-up, that you've got to love him. The same goes for his friend Patrick with his irresistible Scottish accent and disgusting eating habits. Exhibit A, of course, is the kind of creature we all dread to encounter on our paths because, scrolfing and all, we know he will steal our hearts. They, and some of the other cast members of Exhibit A, are the kind of characters that are simply too good to be the protagonists of a single novel, and one can only hope that Lotz is already working on a sequel, or two.

Most importantly, however, Lotz's greatest achievement in this novel lies in the characterisation of Nina, the young woman who claims to have been raped. She is not a 'stock' victim, nor is she the kind of person one easily warms up to – in other words, she is real. Lotz's presentation of this woman's ordeal is extremely well balanced and thus very believable. She succeeds in exposing the emotional and factual confusion surrounding rape, and shows how unreliable evidence or especially lack of it can be. Moreover, Lotz manages to do all this without underplaying the suffering and pain involved, and most admiringly, without going into voyeuristic, sentimental or gruesome, descriptions. The wisdom and insight with which Lotz handles her plot and characters are remarkable.

In addition, Lotz has an outstanding sense of humour and this book is full of it, all done with great taste. The combination of a serious subject matter intelligently told and a good dose of laughter with which it is infused turns Exhibit A into the kind of novel one will not readily put down – a wonderful addition to the blooming scene of South African crime fiction.

Exhibit A
by Sarah Lotz
Penguin, 2009
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