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Jade de Jong: South Africa's answer to 'The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency'

South African author Jassy Mackenzie has created private investigator Jade de Jong – the grittier, South African version of Botswana's Precious Ramotswe.

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As an adult, my whole love for thriller writing has been thanks to American thriller writers. Not necessarily those who write female leads, although I've subsequently discovered Tess Gerritsen. My earlier favorites were Lee Child and Jeffrey Deaver.

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More than the characters, it was just the whole way that those books were paced, the incredible sense of place and the amazing way in which they managed to work in these unbelievable plot twists.

Q: One of your book mentions Nancy Drew, who's always been popular here in the United States. Did you read her books in Africa too?

She was hugely popular and a fantastic private investigator. I really enjoyed her and loved her individuality, the way that she took matters into her own hands.

Q: Your books are cinematic, full of vivid plot twists and movie-style violence. Will they be made into movies or TV shows some day?

A: I think every writer secretly lives in anticipation of that phone call. It's something that I would love. But like every other writer, I have to be patient.

Q: How do your books do there in South Africa?

They do better in the States than South Africa.

We have a lot of challenges here when it comes to local fiction.

In the apartheid days, fiction was very limited, and crime fiction was just about non-existent. It's hard to write about crime when the entire system you're writing about is one big crime.

Also, crime readers here can be distrustful of new authors, and it's hard to persuade a South African reader to read a South African writer when their books are sometimes not even displayed on the new book shelves.

Q: Your new Jade de Jong book is called "The Fallen." What happens in it?

Jade finds her romantic dreams horribly crushed on a trip to St. Lucia. She actually has an ulterior motive to go to St. Lucia, which is very close to a town where her mother died. She is on a quest to find out more about her mother, and she wants to see where her mother is buried. Of course, everything goes wrong, and there's a murder where they're staying.

Q: What about your next book?

At the moment, my next book, "Pale Horses," is in the editing process, and I'm excited about it. It takes the story to the new downtown of Johannesburg, and its reputation has the new high-rise capital of Africa and the richest square mile in Africa. It's about the wealth and the complications.

For more from women mystery writers who have invented fascinating female protagonists, check my recent interviews with authors Nevada Barr (the American creator of park ranger Anna Piegon) and Denise Mina (the Scottish creator of police detective Alex Morrow) here and here.

Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.

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