The Tannie Maria mysteries are one of my all-time favorite mystery series. That’s really saying something because I have read literally thousands of mysteries over the years. The Satanic Mechanic was a lot of fun and a little less gruesome than the first book in the series which involved some unfortunate wildlife poaching scenes.
The series takes place in Ladismith in the Klein Karoo region of South Africa. Already that is intriguing because how many contemporary novels (and a mystery at that!) available in the US take place in South Africa? Not very many, I checked. Sally Andrew does a great job of really making you feel like you are there. Lovely descriptions of the birds, wild animals, and landscape. She also weaves in Afrikaans words and phrases in a wonderful way; the next line or two will be saying the same thing or describing it in English so you aren’t left scratching your head. There is a bit of South African history in this book, more than what was in the first book which was interesting.
Tannie (auntie, an honorific for an older lady pronounced to rhyme with “honey”) Maria writes an advice and recipe column in the tiny 3-person run town newspaper. People write in looking for advice and she answers their questions and gives them a recipe to help. For example, if a woman wants to show her boyfriend she is serious, she might give a recipe for an extra special cake. It is a cute detail that somehow doesn’t become cutesy. The book made me so interested in South African food so be forewarned, Tannie Maria cooks at least one cake, some biscuits, normally lunch and always a multi-dish dinner every day and gives descriptions of each. There are also recipes in the back for many of the dishes, thankfully. Now I just need to dig a firepit and buy a potjie.
This book finds Tannie Maria trying to help her policeman boyfriend solve crime despite his adamant feels towards her not helping him solve crimes after the incidents in the last book. Like many a heroine she stumbles across clues anyway and an early murder ends up being related to a later murder at her PTSD support group that she is attending to help her heal from her dead husband’s abuse. The “Satanic Mechanic” in the title refers to the quirky man who runs the PTSD group and also is a sheep farmer and a mechanic and possible former Satanist.
Despite it being a “cozy” mystery and some outlandish things happening (Satanists!) the story is rather serious at times but always immensely enjoyable. I highly recommend it anyone who loves a good heroine, interesting characters, a complicated plot, unusual setting and a mystery that while not hardboiled or very violent does deal with some serious issues and is quite in-depth and well written.