All Come to Dust
by Bryony Rheam
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Pub Date 04 Mar 2022 | Archive Date 17 Dec 2021
‘All Come to Dust is an intriguing, twisting murder mystery, a witty combination of old-fashioned detective story and keenly-observed portrait of life in suburban Bulawayo. In DCI Edmund Dube, Bryony Rheam has created a fictional detective as memorable as Hercule Poirot.’
Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 66 members
Initially assuming that All Come To Dust was a straightforward murder mystery, I was impressed to find that actually Rheam is doing something much more intricate and important* here. Rather than a No 1 Ladies Detective Agency-style southern African comic romp of a mystery novel, All Come To Dust instead grapples with difficult issues of colonialism, racism, mental health, and memory. The insights into the lives of the remaining white population of Zimbabwe were fascinating while clear-eyed: the reader is encouraged to sympathise with certain of them, but also reminded of their privilege. Highly recommended .
* I say this as a huge fan of crime fiction, not to diminish 'straightforward murder mysteries' which are some of my favourite books!
“All Come to Dust” is a long-simmering stew, with the raw-ingredients of an old-fashioned detective mystery and the mélange of spices of post-colonial Zimbabwe breaking down and melding together to offer up something far more than you might have expected when you started. The writing itself is incredibly patient, only revealing itself slowly and at its own measured pace. But within it Rheam is able to slowly develop an assortment of characters. Each time we revisit someone we learn more about them, forcing us to be patient as they reveal themselves. Similarly, the sense of place is intense. I have never visited Zimbabwe, but the writing instantly brought me to Bulawayo, from the scent of the flowers in the trees to the piles of utterly useless bureaucratic paperwork at the police station. Without ever being heavy handed, the occasional use of vernacular language combined with really specific sensory descriptions to really make the setting its own character, and one that affects every other character in their own way.
The characters are well drawn out, if slowly, just playing on enough of tropes or archetypes to let the reader assume they know something prematurely. The story itself is both riveting and small, or enclosed, at the same time. It takes its time unspooling, and offers enough red herrings mixed with its clues along the way that you want to keep reading and don’t feel cheated out of a proper resolution. All the while it is a portrait of how class, race, and gender still function in contemporary Zimbabwe, not as much an indictment as it is just a laying bare of how injustice and privilege are still baked into everyday life, and the efforts different people take to escape such social shackles.
If you’re interested in a compelling detective story, you can find that here, and although surely this novel wraps itself in that affectation it is more than that. It was a joy to read, even as it slowed me down and insisted I take it at its own pace. Every aspect, from characters, to story, to writing, was deliberate and nothing felt rushed or hackneyed. The latter third of the book did feel a little more rushed than the first parts, though that is part and parcel with whodunits. There were some things that wrapped up a little too neatly, or quickly, again common in the genre but it didn’t feel entirely fitting with the rest of the story. It wasn’t enough to feel unearned, though, and the incredibly memorable primary character, who himself was more than just a copy-and-paste genre detective but actually someone who experienced growth and development throughout the story, was more than enough to give this novel high marks and a hearty recommendation.
I want to thank NetGalley and Parthian Books, who gave me a complimentary eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Wow! I haven’t had a book captivate me like this one in a long time. I intended to just read a chapter to get a feel for it and 100 pages in I was in heaven.
This is a great plot for me personally. At its most basic, this is a murder mystery set in current day Zimbabwe. It evolves into something so much more to include issues of repressed memories, trauma, racism, colonialism, family and mental health. Instead of telling us about these issues, we are shown through narrative, the effects of past decisions and events on current everyday lives of the individuals and their families. I love books where I’m entertained as I learn that this is very well accomplished here. There is often a bit of a philosophical tone which I quite enjoyed.
Our main investigator is not the typical hunky detective type, rather an insecure male who is very aware of his flaws and is consciously working on his self-confidence. I loved Edmund for the first half of this novel as he proves himself not to be as pathetic as he would have led us to believe. There are some unexpected twists to his story that I did not anticipate, and I ended the book not quite as enamored with him. Human beings are not perfect and none of the characters in this book is without fault. I love how real and flawed they are.
The plight of a poor white man in a newly independent African nation was engrossing. We get to know Craig pretty well and his back story is most intriguing. Rheam gradually reveals each player to the reader when his/her that perspective is revisited, and they all grow in complexity and the reader grows in understanding. Mrs. Whitstable was the biggest surprise for me. We get to know a few of the “good” characters quite well but none of the bad guys. I’d have liked to see some of the story from Marcia or Mr Pullman’s perspective. Many subplots were woven together for a satisfying ending. I do have a few questions though, especially regarding the plight of the women who were transported over the border.
There is a wonderful sense of place; smells, sounds, sights transported me to Bulawayo. The writing is amazingly easy to read, and it moves everything along every quickly. The use of some local language is perfectly integrated so that I never felt I had to look something up.
I loved this book and look forward to more from a highly talented author. I will be checking out her other novel, This September Sun, as soon as I can.
Thanks to Net Galley and Parthian books.
All Come to Dust is a novel by a Zimbabwean set in modern Zimbabwe. On the surface it is a classic—and very complex—mystery. But I felt throughout as though there was a literary novel manifesting as a shadow behind the screen of a conventional mystery. The writing is often quite lovely, and the story is told from various points of view, each one shedding light not only on the diverse characters but also on the details of living in Zimbabwe. Add to this the fact that much of the suspense concerns the characters’ pasts, not the present murders of a disliked middle-class white woman, and you have a book that feels much more like literary fiction than a genre novel.
The mystery suffers somewhat. Its resolution is extremely clever, with one of those endings where you discover that every character’s story is an interlocking piece of the puzzle; but the clues leading up to the resolution are somewhat murky, often requiring cultural knowledge the average reader may not have (I didn’t). It takes a plot strategist and practiced writer like Agatha Christie to pull off the sleight of hand of showing the clues in such a way as to make them ignored but present enough in the subconscious for an “Aha—that was it!” moment at the end. This was not such a mystery, though it has enough of the trappings of a mystery to make the reader wonder exactly what it is trying to be. The reader who wants to be sure may need to reread the book—and this is a book that merits rereading, primarily because of the vivid picture of Zimbabwe.
I found myself highlighting often, to capture insightful and painterly passages about Zimbabwe. Bryony Rheam’s slow, observant, and graceful writing calls to life the dusty roads, the smell of grasses, and the blossoms tossing in the trees, while limning an elderly generation of impoverished British non-leavers, a sleazy group of exploitative whites, and a mixed race underclass attempting only to find a job and make a contented life in a country where not even the electricity and water can be relied on. Bryany Rheam writes of this country with authority and astuteness. In Zimbabwe, she has found her ordained setting. I am not certain that the mystery is her genre. But I am sure she is a writer to watch; and I look forward to her next book with considerable eagerness.
I would like to think @netgalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review @allcometodust. I appreciated the opportunity to read such an intriguing study of another country by an author to watch.
What a great . Book! .it has everything a great mystery needs to make you not want to put it down. The characters were all interesting, the story took place in Zimbabwe which was different from most of the m books I read and the mystery held my interestuntil the end. The story is about a “sort of”. murder of a most unlikable woman. Edmund, the only policeman on the force that is not corrupt is determined to get the killer. But, Edmund is fighting his own personal demons which add to the intensity of the story. This all makes for a most intense story!
I really enjoyed this book. It was my first time reading a book set in Zimbabwe and I didn't have any particular expectations, but this was actually an awesome murder mystery with an unusual setting. I was pleasantly surprised and I will definitely be reading other books by this author. Sometimes the descriptions were a little bit lengthy, but at the same time I liked how vivid the places seemed so I didn't mind it that much. It was a 4 star read for me.
A Reminiscence Of His Own…
A death at a home in the suburbs of Bulawayo brings the enigmatic Chief Inspector Edmund Dube to the scene. When it becomes clear that people don’t want to answer questions, the Inspector begins a reminiscence of his own. A well written whodunnit which evolves into so much more as the tale progresses. Written with a sharp eye, dry humour and a keen observance of life. A wholly satisfying read.
I really enjoyed this book. Based in Zimbabwe, it’s a long meandering tale but written so well that I enjoyed every twist and turn. The characters are interesting and the plot really good.
This was a deeply character driven murder mystery with some intriguing insights into life in post-colonial Zimbabwe. There were some twists and turns that were exciting, but this is a slow-paced novel to be certain. Worth the read in the end if only for Rheam’s prose.
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