“The adventures of his twenties had taught Piet Barol that it is unwise to begin with a lie.” That’s how Richard Mason’s latest novel begins. Who killed Piet Barol? is a sequel to the delightful History of a Pleasure Seeker although the two are also standalone stories. The first ends with Piet landing in Cape Town in 1908, following a series of adventures and misadventures in Amsterdam. He’s hoping to make a fresh start with singer Stacey Meadows. And that they do. Except Piet doesn’t seem to have learned his lesson about when it comes to telling lies, because 1913 sees him lying to Stacey, now his wife, about paying the bills. They’re broke even though Piet is a master furniture-maker.
But when he hears about a magical forest on land no one owns, Piet sees an opportunity to get free wood and save his business. In order to do so, he has to deceive the Xhosa tribe who worship the big trees as the physical embodiment of their ancestors. It’s inevitable that the lies that were riotous fun in History of a Pleasure Seeker will lead the hero to a tragic end in Who Killed Piet Barol? Rich in description and steeped in gorgeous local mythology, Who Killed Piet Barol? shows how good intentions coupled with narcissism and hubris pave a road to destruction and ruin where no one wins.
Richard Mason was in South Africa recently to promote the latest book. Forget his Eton accent because the good-looking charmer is passionate about the country of his birth. Mason left South Africa for the UK with his anti-apartheid activist parents in the 1980s when he was ten years old. But, his only passport is a South African one. We spoke about his research for the book, writing for the Other and his thoughts on the Fees Must Fall protests (Mason runs an education charity in South Africa).
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This interviewed was first broadcast on PowerFm 98.7 on 16 October 2016.