The last book I read by South African writer Angela Makholwa was The Thirtieth Candle and I nearly missed out on a major world carnival as I sat on a beach and read it. This is an exceptional writer and gifted storyteller. Her latest offering, the fictional novel, Black Widow Society, was published in 2013 by Pan Macmillan.
The book revolves around a society that was formed by three women Edna Whithead, Nkosazana Khumalo and Tallulah Ntuli. Such groups are common across Africa, where women pool their finances together in order to pursue noble objectives such as supporting businesses, strengthing purchasing power or financing family affairs. In Kenya, we are used to the groups we called chamas which are aimed at pooling their finances to do noble things like support businesses and finance family affairs. This particular group however, which calls itself the Black Widow Society (BWS), is a little less noble in its aims; the society kills the husbands of members. You heard that right; to be a member of the BWS means that your horrible abusive husband will lose their life and you will pay for this pleasure. An ex-convict turned assassin by the name of Mzwakhe Khuzwayo does the killings for the group. The society meets once a year where members give an account of their activities and are forbidden from meeting socially after that. The group grows organically over the years so nothing could possibly go wrong – right? Wrong!
Everything goes wrong as the story unfolds.
The three original members have their own intricacies. Tallulah has a penchant for nubile young men and one of these boys emerges as a leak in the society that she has to resolve decisively. Edna is plain boring. But Nkosazana, the gay attorney/lawyer, decides that she wants one final payout for many years of service to the BWS. So she gets the services of Mzwakhe to kill one of their client’s spouses on the side for a fee. This client, it turns out, is a good friend of Mzwakhe’s girlfriend Marie. This same white girlfriend, he intends marry, even though they still frown upon interracial unions in South Africa twenty years after freedom/apartheid. As is the case with most contract killers, he has kept his job away from his girlfriend as well guarded secret, which now hovers over these interwoven relationships. This new job obviously jolts him leaving the book to end in a climax that is well worth the 250 plus pages.
One has to love the prose in this book because of its functionality. None of your fancy “The sky which was in Nairobi Blue colour looked like it wanted to bring down showers of God’s endless blessings after a long and tortuous day” when “The sky was blue but it could rain eventually” could work just as well. This kind of prose appeals considerably to the avid novel reader who gets spellbound in the story because it doesn’t disrupt the narrative without purpose.
The characters in this book are well thought out and discernible. They aren’t just parts of a whole but fully formed characters in a full story which makes the way in which it turns out perfect and not just random. The killing of some of the characters such as the philandering China Gumede is well constructed to the point that the reader feels the work is done.
My favourite character was Max Cameron who is an old man who was supposed to be killed by the BWS but somehow, even without his knowledge, charms himself out of death.
I loved this book. You would too if you are up for a breathtaking novel with many twists and turn and characters roles which intricately intertwine to an irrepressible climax.