Bryony Rheam’s Zimbabwean crime fiction novel All Come To Dust offers a detective who is as much a mystery as the murder he is meant to be investigating.
Chief Inspector Edmund Dude models himself on the quick witted, perceptive detectives he’s seen in countless films and TV programmes. He is particularly fond of The Saint.
Edmund is itching for a chance to prove he’s their equal and not simply the guy who sits in a back office in a shabby Bulawayo police station organising paper work and files.
His chance comes with the death of wealthy ex-pat Marcia Pullman, a woman who nobody likes and everyone seems to have had a reason to want out of the picture. She bullies her staff, lords it over other members of her book club and looks down her nose at other ex-pats who have fallen victim to Zimbabwe’s rampant inflation.
Edmund’s determination to discover the person responsible for Marcia’s death is frustrated at every turn.
Her maid servant and people who knew her fail to pass on key pieces of information or deliberately try to mislead Edmund. Given the run around by the pathologist and denied access to the case files, Edmund comes to suspect that the dead woman’s husband is using his connections high up in the police force to get the case closed down as fast as possible.
Despite being told more than once by his senior officer to keep his nose out of the case and go back to sorting out paperwork, Edmund perseveres.
He turns out to be an unorthodox detective who bumbles along with the reluctant help of a heavy-drinking odd job man as unofficial “assistant”. Together they mount night time surveillance operations and stage house break-ins to search for documents.
Edmund is a complex man, a loner and an outsider who looks for order and structure in his life. We learn his backstory through a series of flashbacks to his childhood in 1979. They reveal a mystery in his own life: the fate of the couple who were his mother’s employers. They had taken Edmund under their wing and ensured he got a good education. But one day when he was still a boy, they just disappeared.
There’s a further mystery about the Chief Inspector and his role in the police force that comes to light very late in the novel. It would spoil the book for other readers so I’ll just say that the mystery within a mystery within a mystery structure adds an interesting dimension to All Come to Dust. It makes it far more than just another police procedural.
It’s a carefully structured novel that touches on issues of class, race and the colonial legacy in modern day Bulawayo. More significantly it highlights the way young and poor black Zimbabwean girls become prey to unscrupulous people with empty promises of a better life in another country.
The plot takes a while to unravel and comes with more than its fair share of red herrings until it ends with an Agatha Christie style denouement. It was a little too long for my tastes but I did enjoy the novel’s insights into life in Zimbabwe.
All Come to Dust will definitely appeal to readers who enjoy character-driven crime fiction with plenty of twists and a memorable and unusual detective figure.
All Come To Dust by Bryony Rheam: Footnotes
Bryony Rheam was born in Zimbabwe and currently lives with her family in Bulawayo. Her first novel This September Sun was named best first book in the Zimbabwe Book Publishers’ Association Awards in 2010.
All Come To Dust, her second novel. was chosen as one of ten top African thrillers in Publishers Weekly, who described it as a “stunning crime debut.
It was first published in Zimbabwe in May 2021 and worldwide by the Welsh independent press Parthian Books in March 2022.
My thanks go to Parthian for providing me with a copy of the book in return for an honest review.