Book review: Unforgiven


Liz McGregor

Jonathan Ball Publishers

Review: Karen Watkins

Two days after his wife’s ashes are interred, Robin McGregor is brutally murdered in his Tulbagh home.

Trying in vain to move beyond her grief, journalist Liz McGregor, one of his five children, is determined to find out why someone would torture a man for an hour and stab him 24 times before slitting his throat.

Having gone through the case records, McGregor sits through the trial wanting to understand Cecil Thomas who sits in the dock with many female family members in the court room.

Where did he come from? And what made him do what he did?

Thomas comes from a respected family in Saron, close to Tulbagh.

He sought to educate himself and was a skilled boilermaker who also played rugby.

He was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment for the murder, leaving McGregor with a lack of closure and more questions than answers.

The judge described Thomas as untruthful and also never believed his story.This triggers a journey as McGregor does everything she can to make contact with Thomas’s family and to meet him face to face.

Meanwhile, becoming obsessive, her health deteriorates.

On the brighter side she meets a man who supports her in her quest as she visits Brandvlei and Voorberg prisons, meeting a pastor and a retired warder from Pollsmoor whom she hires.

After hitting brick walls from the prison authorities she gets to confront Thomas.

After a three-hour confrontation she learns about how gangs grew out of the mines, their hierarchy, uniform and language and most importantly, how powerful they are.

This was a difficult book to read, leaving me dissatisfied with a story that has no ending.

It must have been unsatisfying for McGregor, making me wonder why she persevered and then went on to spend four years researching and writing this intimate memoir.

It also had me questioning her comparing restorative justice to retributive justice and also statements about the legal profession – judges, lawyers, police and prison warders.

Conversely the information about the gangs and what was happening to Thomas inside our prisons after his sentence made it a worthwhile read.

Not having found the answers she was looking for, McGregor must now feel fulfilled in her duty to her dad.

She says her next book will be something frivolous.