Kurt Ellis – In the Midst of Wolves (2019: Penguin)
By Margot Bertelsmann, edited by Neesa Moodley
Why is Kurt Ellis not a household name, like Deon Meyer is? Here is a coloured male South African writer from KZN and he uses his life experiences and viewpoints to write the most gripping tales. Could that back story be the reason?
Ellis’ latest psychological thriller was published in 2019 with a sequel due soon. If you’re a fan of Deon Meyer, this gritty thriller will be right up your street.
A former Durbanite, now living in Johannesburg, he brings some of the socioeconomic realities from his childhood environments into his writing in a way that makes for an authentic tone.
Penguin provides the following plot summary: “Back in South Africa after working with the FBI, Nick Creed is haunted by his past mistakes, including the death of his fiancée. When a young woman is murdered and dismembered in her Johannesburg apartment, Creed’s long-time friend and head of the SAPS’ Investigative Psychological Unit, Major Eli Grey, enlists his help in investigating the murder – an attempt to save the self-destructing Creed from himself. But not all the Unit’s members welcome his involvement, and there are those intent on exposing his secrets while the murder is being solved. The young woman’s community are convinced she was the victim of a witch called Nomtakhati, but Creed’s hunch points to an angry ex-boyfriend. Who, or what, is really behind the murder? Could it be Nomtakhati, who believes Nick Creed is uSatane? In the Midst of Wolves is a dark psychological thriller about metaphorical demons from the past and the living monsters who target the innocent.”
In an exclusive interview with the Safrea Chronicle, Ellis says the writers he admires most are Thomas Harris, Jeffery Deaver and Mo Hayder. He says, “In my writing, I try to combine the research and realism of Thomas Harris, the twists and surprises of Deaver and the brutality of Mo Hayder. My publishers said the novel reminded them of the Netflix show Mindhunter and that, for me, was the ultimate compliment. Mindhunter is a fictionalised version of the life of Robert Douglas, the pioneer of criminal profiling. I have studied everything Douglas had ever written while researching this book. In fact, the character of Douglas Redman, Creed’s mentor, is based on Robert Douglas.”
The novel looks at faith and compares the hegemony of Western religion with the easy ridicule of African beliefs. “It also looks at greed, and how religion and faith can be manipulated by people in order to gain more influence, wealth and power,” says Ellis. “There are no real monsters in the book, apart from man.”
Ellis says Nick Creed is the ultimate antihero. He’s antagonistic, arrogant, and jaded. Luke Meyer, an former priest-turned-cop, believes he’s a danger to himself and others, and collaborates with journalist Tracey Wilson to expose Creed’s shady past. But can Tracey withstand Creed’s charms?
This is a superb addition to the South African crime fiction genre.
Some interesting facts about the author
- He won the Harry Oppenheimer Creative Writing award at Wits in his first year.
- His debut novel, By Any Means, was published in 2014 by Human and Rousseau.
- By Any Means went on to be longlisted in the Etisalat Literary Award and was included in many lists for the best African books of 2014.