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True Crime in South Africa: a review of Antony Altbeker’s “Fruit of a Poisoned Tree”

Book cover of Fruit of A Poisoned Tree.

Fruit of a Poisoned Tree is from New Journalism author, Antony Altbeker. Over 2005-2007, Altbeker followed the infamous trial of Fred Van der Vyver, the man accused of killing his girlfriend, Inge Lotz, in one of South Africa’s most brutal murders. The story is anything but simple. South Africa is a country in crisis and Altbeker details not only the legal investigations of Inge’s murder, but also the underlying currents of fear, change, and loss of identity in South Africa.

From the outset the reader knows that Fred, Inge’s boyfriend, has been acquitted on all counts of murder. Altbeker along with South Africa’s legal system have been accused of being fooled by a cold and calculating psychopath. On the other side, many believed in Fred’s innocence and felt that the blunders and misappropriations of evidence by the police and forensic team highlight South Africa’s broken legal system. After reading the book, I still feel unsure about what and who to believe.

What I really loved about reading this book was learning more about the legal processes in South Africa and around the world. The very idea of what constitutes as evidence and what can been submitted and subsequently approved as evidence in a court of law was fascinating. As a reader, you are drawn into a web of lies and truth with no real way of knowing how to differentiate between the two.

Likewise every good tree bears good fruit,

but a bad tree bears bad fruit.

A good tree cannot bear bad fruit,

and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.

Thus, by their fruit you will recognise them. – Matthew 7:17-20

The book has some rather graphic descriptions, especially in the beginning as Altbeker describes the video that was recorded after police found Inge’s body. So, it’s definitely not for the squeamish reader. In saying that, the scene is very brief and the book focuses more on the trial, the production of evidence, miscarriages of justice, and the crisis of identity plaguing South Africa after Apartheid. This book is something special and I would most certainly recommend this book to any lovers of crime and true crime alike.

Have you read Fruit of a Poisoned Tree? I would love to hear what you thought about the book. Do you know any other South African crime authors? Remember to share the reading love.