Constance Myburgh's Hunter Emmanuel is a noir story of sorts. The story was somewhat hard to follow especially due to the technique - or approach - adopted by the author where she mixed dreams and the surreal with reality in a way that doesn't really work. Not that one cannot identify where the dreams end and where reality begins but the parts worked like two immiscible liquids, with one sitting on top of the other. As a story capable of evoking lip-curling grisly imagery, it works; however, it fails on the front of a whodunit. That's how the parts failed to work. Yet, it is possible that the author had nothing of these in her mind.
There is no murder per se that requires investigations; but a woman's leg has been severed at the hip level and, fortunately, she has survived and recuperating in the hospital. The severed leg has been tied to the branch of a pine, in a pine forest that is undergoing harvesting. The discoverer of the leg, like in most film-noir or mass-market whodunits, is a former security officer - Hunter Emmanuel - who knows not what he's doing with his life. Hunter Emmanuel realises that the person the leg belongs is a whore and consequently, the police will not conduct any thorough investigation; this he makes known to Zara, the woman in question. He wants to investigate but he has no reason why he wants to, except that according to him '... a man must investigate'. Or was there some attraction between the pair, especially of Zara to Hunter? Regardless of Hunter's eagerness to solve the case, he was shown as incapable, lacking the requisite elements of the trade to track the perpetrator of that heinous crime. In fact, Hunter was not created to be loved or pitied and neither was Zara. There was a kind of distance between the characters and the reader, no affection, no eagerness for Hunter to succeed.
The question however is, was it necessary for Hunter to investigate this crime, since it was clear from their conversations that Zara knows who had cut off her leg and why but she's not telling and the reason why she wasn't telling was not easily obtained in the prose. The closest Hunter Emmanuel came to finding out, he was blacked out and woke from coma in the hospital.
The dialogue between Zara and Emmanuel sounded a bit artificial and forced. The author had a lot to offer in this story, using the technique of hiding to reveal and to involve the reader in story so that the reader works his or her way into the heart rather than being supplied with all the necessary information. However, it looks as if Constance hid too much so that the story seemed a bit jarred. This personal observation might arise from my own defiency in appreciating such stories and therefore should not be the basisfor judging this story. But is Constance's story therefore empty? The answer is no. Like Nii Ayikwei Parkes' Tail of a Blue Bird, there was no resolution to the crime, which happens to be one of my best endings for crime stories. Again, the language was street-smart. Some may criticise it for being uncough but how many times do we speak those polished Shakespearean English, aside on the English stage of English Theatres.
Hunter Emmanuel might work for others, like most stories. There is something in it that works, which made the judges to shortlist it; not that every shortlisted story works but Hunter Emmanuel seems to (want) tosay something and it might take more to hear it out. It all depends on how it is read and appreciated after all there is always a thin line between a great work and a failed one.