Talking Location With author Charlotte Rixon – Newcastle
Talking Location With…. author Paul Mendelson – Cape Town
16th February 2018
#TalkingLocationWith… author Paul Mendelson. Cape Town, South Africa, the setting for his novel “Apostle Lodge“, the latest in the Colonel Vaughn de Vries books.
Having visited South Africa for twenty years, and having fallen in love with the Mother City, Cape Town, I realised that it would make a perfect setting for my series of crime novels featuring Colonel Vaughn de Vries – a senior officer in the South African Police Service.
At the Southernmost tip of Africa, Cape Town is a blend of African and European cultures, borne out of centuries of colonial influence. Topographically stunning, surrounded by two great oceans, topped by mountains – including the famous Table Mountain – green and lush on one side, sun-bleached and dry on the other. Cape Town is a destination for gastronomes and wine-lovers, yachtsmen, surfers, hikers and horticulturists. Once the long flight is over – there is no more than two hours time difference from Europe – at any time of the year, the sea air, temperate climate and warmth of welcome and generous hospitality will rehabilitate visitors, stimulate senses, relax mind and body.
Pretty much as safe as any other city center, Cape Town does have a dark side. Surrounding the city are townships and squatter camps, where tribal violence meets drug and alcohol abuse and the crime rate is very high. In my latest novel, ‘Apostle Lodge’, the fourth in the series, the body of an unidentified woman is discovered in the eponymous house, designed in brutalist style by a German architect in the 1970s, and the building itself contains a secret history which will prove key to discovering who might be behind such a crime.
Apostle Lodge overlooks the picturesque and trendy Camps Bay – a white sand beach, banked with palm trees on a strip of upmarket bars, clubs and restaurants. Located on the opposite side of Table Mountain from the centre of Cape Town, it is reached by a mountain pass, from which the famous cable car can be reached, which takes visitors to the summit of the flat-topped mountain.
During his investigations, Vaughn de Vries travels around his home city, visiting many neighbourhoods, landmarks, restaurants and bars.
One of the great pleasures of writing about a city you both know and love, is bringing to life a location which readers may not have visited, instilling the book with the sights, sounds and smells of Southern Africa and the unique atmosphere of this extraordinary city. For residents and those who have visited Cape Town, they will recognise 90% of what I describe but perhaps be mystified by the remainder. It is always a delight for me, as an author, to slip the fictitious into an otherwise accurate description. A bar, a café, a street, or a building – any of these might appear in a genuine location, but not really exist.
In ‘Apostle Lodge’, De Vries and a colleague travel out of Cape Town, along the Southern coast of South Africa, taking the so-called ‘Garden Route’ Eastwards. Here, you see the magnificent scenery and breath-taking scale of this country, and observe it becoming much wilder and more African than Cape Town. Afrikaans replaces English as the local tongue; wild animals and stunning wilderness take over from beautiful gardens and fashionable hideouts; the rough Atlantic becomes the warm Indian Ocean lapping onto seemingly endless perfect beaches.
Right now, South Africa faces crises on several fronts. Nationally, the reign of President Zuma has ended. Revealed as corrupt, compromised and destructive, he is succeeded by a right-hand man of Nelson Mandela, Cyril Ramaphosa. Already, South Africans, and the World, seem to feel this could be the start of a positive new beginning. In Cape Town, the city faces its worst water crisis ever, with the threat that the taps will run dry – literally – on “Zero Day”, at the time of writing predicted to be April 12th. Already beset by three dry winters, Capetonians are severely restricted on water use, saving every drop they can. Soon, the city’s swimming pools will become reservoirs. Rain is approaching, but T.I.A (This Is Africa) and it is summer, so the chances are that it will disappear before it reaches the continent’s southern-most city.
Throughout my books set in Cape Town, the politics of the country – and, over the past century, there have been more politics here than almost anywhere else in the world – the climate, the lifestyle and sheer beauty of The Cape, have featured as a vivid backdrop to the investigations and adventures carried out by my protagonist, Vaughn de Vries.
As I prepare to return home to London in mid-winter, I hope that my readers will be transported to the enormity of this country, to the jewel at its South-Western tip, Cape Town, and fall in love with it as I have, and continue to do, over all these years.
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