The Satanic Mechanic
PublisherCanongate Books
Date Published07 July 2016
Price£ 12.99

The Satanic Mechanic

by Sally Andrew

When a South African bushman is poisoned, an expert in sauces helps with the case, but is threatened herself before the culprit is caught.


Tannie (Auntie) Maria runs a Love Advice and Recipe column for the Klein Karoo Gazette in Ladismith, and knows her sauces. So when Slimkat, a bushman who has had success at court recovering ancestral lands, is poisoned at an Ostrich Club dinner, Maria’s keen nose for spices helps to identify the sauce used to kill him.

Maria’s policeman boyfriend Hank values the assistance, and he really loves Maria, although he tends to be over-protective. Maria loves Hank, but is haunted by the experience of the marriage that ended in her husband’s death, and her fear makes her keep Hank at a distance. She takes the opportunity to attend group sessions run by Ricus, known as the Satanic Mechanic, to find relief, and meets some others with problems.

This is the second book featuring Tannie Maria, and has several endearing features. For starters, the author is clearly well informed about the flora and fauna of this semi-arid region of South Africa, and Maria’s comments on her surroundings as she goes about her daily business are packed with observations about the unusual plants, birds and animals that she sees about her.

Maria’s response to life is essentially through the stomach, and she spends much of her time devising recipes, or preparing food, for specific purposes. If she is troubled, a certain type of biscuit is needed. If she is celebrating, cake is called for. Those responding to her column are given advice and the recipes she thinks most appropriate, and several of the latter are given at the end of the book, tested by experts. Readers should be warned that this can make it difficult to read more than a few chapters without raiding the fridge.

Maria herself comes across as rather child-like, trusting and entirely free of the inter-racial friction that still inhibits social interaction in South Africa. Most of the other characters are also people of goodwill; even the troubled members of the group are represented sympathetically. Hank the tough policeman has a pet lamb who has to be sung to sleep, not a frequent motif in the annals of crime.

Given the style of the Tannie Maria mysteries, it is no surprise to see endorsements on the back cover from Woman & Home, Oprah and Good Housekeeping. What is perhaps more unexpected is to find the book very readable, with a charm which is sustained to the last page. It’s a minority taste perhaps, but an interesting antidote to the plentiful crime fiction which paints humanity in the darkest of colours.

Reviewed 04 March 2017 by Chris Roberts