Jenny Hobbs has a knack for telling stories that are both stylistically impressive and eminently enjoyable. Her latest work, Napoleon Bones, a biting and clever crime thriller, manages to entertain as well as subvert expectations. For starters, our narrator and crime-fighter-in-chief is no ordinary man. He’s no man at all, but a protective, faithful, affectionate police dog, part of the Western Cape K9 Unit, one half of Team A-R. Napoleon Bones is the trusty partner in crime to Inspector Rusty Gordon. While Bones has great game with the ladies and instincts sharper than a Toledo dagger, he cannot say the same for the tongue-tied attempts at flirtation of his master, whom he desperately wants to see happy with a partner. Gordon, however, is every bit the kind of SAPS member you want to have your back: resourceful, fit and tough, and the pair make a mean team on the beat.
The chief thorn in their sides is a mysterious group known as the Blackjacks, thieves armed with knives and wearing balaclavas… Gordon and Bones must crack the case, with help mainly from Gordon’s close friend and colleague, Spike Davids. Apart from consistent references to the ways and plays of the crime novel itself … this self-reflexive novel is comparable to more humorous crime fare. While Rusty Gordon is the novel’s centre of gravity, Hobbs has a ball with Bones, imbuing his character with wit, charm, and some decidedly tongue-in-cheek animal magnetism. As he relates his prowess as both gourmet and gritty law enforcer, it is impossible not to sit back and bask in the sheer exuberance and enthusiasm of the writing. In reference to Bones and his olfactory capabilities, some parts of the novel come across as a localised play on Patrick Suskind’s Perfume, set in France, without the sinister thematic arc…
Napoleon Bones is commendable for its willingness to balance its light with just enough shade. Darker, more dramatic elements, such as corruption, xenophobia, stereotyping, the abuse of women and animals and patriarchy, blend seamlessly into the narrative, giving the text weight it would not have had as all-out farce… Hobbs genuinely seems to like her main characters, which goes a long way to making them accessible.
I am willing to venture that readers with a taste for offbeat, hearty local fare will find much to savour here, and will want to read more from a prolific author with unmistakeable verve and vision.