I live in South Africa, a country known for its capacity for forgiveness and its horrendous murder stats. Every day on the news, women and children go missing and turn up mutilated in forests and rubbish dumps. But this is also the place of Mister Mandela and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where apartheid killers cried broken tears with the families of their victims.

Just before writing Malachi, my life led me to a strange district - a middle-class suburb where privileged white people hid from homicide and muggings while licking their own sins behind their high walls. Only the cats took freedom of the streets, lustrous and huge from food richer than the nearby township people could afford to eat. It felt like the only interest in the village was to eavesdrop on retired people’s conversations about gall bladders and hardened arteries at the meat counter in the superette. Now that I think of it, the sight of gleaming meat coupled with those conversation snippets might even have triggered my interest in organ farming and harvesting. And one of the heroines in the novel, a die-hard old crone, may have been inspired by the only surprise in the dreary town, a wild old woman who came ramping over our blind rise once a day, her bright flag flying, her cell phone jammed to her ear.

Either way, by the time I wrote Malachi I was freaked out and fatigued by the idea of separation between people. I was desperately exploring the spiritual concept of one soul, one source when the story landed like an aeroplane on a runway.  A beautiful black man appeared in my imagination from miles across the race and gender divide. Malachi arrived enraged by violence, yearning but terrified to join with the human race. To his mind he is both a victim and a perpetrator. He was raised in a slave camp to serve a neocolonialist corporation that raped his African state of its land, water and wildlife. Then he agrees to work for a pharmaceutical company who make billions by milking unwanted humans of their life blood. Wracked by fury, guilt and a loss so terrible he can’t think of it, Malachi spends a shocking week on a broken oil rig, face to face with people who have been stripped down to their element. I hoped Malachi would emerge with clear-cut decisions about justice and oneness but he dived still deeper. I’m still stunned by what this man found out while he was fighting for his life.

People often ask if the novel is based on the Bible’s Book of Malachi. No. I didn’t even know that the Old Testament ends with a Book of Malachi. To the horror of my Catholic genealogy, I steered clear of the Old Testament all my life. After writing Malachi I found out that the first bible’s last chapter warns of horrendous punishment if people didn’t get their act together and honour God. Even after Covid, clearly the consequences of our folly, I don’t go for these terror tactics. I’m more inclined to believe my Malachi who insists that God is never frightening nor very far, but lurks in the heart of even the worst kind of murderer. He has some radical ideas about the afterlife too, just in time for me, while a loved one is dying. I might be shot down for Malachi’s mutiny but nowadays I’m thinking, perhaps there is perfection in everything. Perhaps the sterile white suburb was the perfect fluorescent light to shine into the carcass of separation and sin. Perhaps the deep, sunless rig was the perfect, scary place for Malachi’s reckoning.

You can read the SF Book Review at https://sfbook.com/the-book-of-malachi.htm