Read of the Week

Sweet Paradise

Joanne Hichens

Tattoo Press

Review: Brian Joss

Rae Valentine, made her debut in Divine Justice in 2011 (reviewed) when the then newly badged PI tried to keep her lover

Mullet Mendes’s private detective agency afloat and his business partner, Vince Saldana off the booze, at the same time battling her own demons, not least the loss of a foot and a heavy drug addiction.

Now after a long four-year absence, she’s back in business. But Valentine loses her boyfriend, Alex “Prettyboy” Savalas, a book deal and her job as a motivational speaker.

Her bank balance also needs topping up and she must find work, pronto.

Saldana who was devastated by the death of his wife, Amber, in Divine Justice, is undergoing rehab in Paradise Place Psychiatric and Rehabilitation Clinic, owned by Dr Max Kramer and his art therapist wife, Eden. And Vince wants Valentine to get him out.

Although the PI firm’s old Facebook page has been deleted, Valentine gets an SMS from Preston Walters asking her to help him find his foster daughter, Faith, who disappeared from Paradise Place. She reluctantly agrees on condition he pays her upfront. So she books herself into Paradise, posing as an addict, joining a bunch of weirdos, not least Nina Brink and the steroid-fuelled Tarquin Syster, and they’re the nurses.

There is Sybilla, who can’t stop eating; a skinny part-time model Joleen, who can’t eat; Paul, a polyphobic terrified of everything; Jamiro, a compulsive sex addict and his lover, the principal.

Valentine opens a Pandora’s Box with terrifying consequences. And she soon learns that Paradise is a misnomer.

On the face of it, it is a rehab clinic, but in another wing, Kramer, who is not so sane himself, keeps unwanted frail care patients, dumped there by their children who have left for greener pastures and as long as they keep paying the bills he is happy.

Sister Brink, meanwhile, is obsessed with neo-Nazi inmate Jean Pierre (JP) Cowart who made his vicious debut in Divine Justice. She is having an email affair with him and dreaming of a bright future together once he gets out of jail.

But he has only one thought in mind: revenge on the people who put him there.

The story takes a twist when Vince, who after a night out with the connivance of the two nurses, stumbles over a body on his return. To give away more would be a spoiler.

Fish Hoek resident Hichens’s staccato style of writing: short sentences and her pithy descriptions of the protagonists, whose pain you can feel, and the aura of evil that permeates Paradise Place, adds to the tension of this dark and gripping page-turner. Which you won’t want to put down until the fiery climax.

Sweet Paradise is a worthy successor to Divine Justice.

I hope we don’t have to wait four years for another Rae Valentine escapade.

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