Review: Deon Meyer – Trackers

Deon Meyer was one of the eloquent panellists at this year’s CWA Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. He spoke about crime in South Africa and his attempts to change misconceptions about the country. A summary of he panel can be found on the Eurocrime blog. I found Meyer to be a very engaging speaker but hadn’t yet read any of his books. However, I finished Trackers last week and thought it one of the best books I’ve read this year.

There are three distinct narratives in Trackers that make the book seem like three short stories. The first involves Milla Strachan who flees her violent racist husband and loutish teenage son for a new life. Although trained as a journalist, she gave up her career for her family and scours the job adverts for some work. She is recruited into the communications office of a government agency and is given the task of writing reports on various individuals. A screen saver on one of the office computers stating ‘Spy the Beloved Country’ gives the game away about the agency’s true nature. The second narrative involves Lemmer, a bodyguard who is hired to escort two endangered rhinos from Zimbabwe into South Africa. This seemingly straightforward job becomes dangerous when the party he is travelling with are set upon by armed men looking for some smuggled contraband. He suspects the accompanying vet Flea, who claims to have no knowledge of what the men are after. The third strand of the follows an ex-police superintendent Mat Joubert who has joined a private investigation agency. His first task is to find the whereabouts of a missing husband with a seemingly innocuous life.

The three ‘trackers’ of the title each have a different role in shaping the whole narrative. Milla is given the greatest profile in the book and her character cleverly weaves together the domestic and the organised crime elements of the story. She is portrayed as a modern South African woman who is fleeing the old order, represented by her husband, for a new life. But the suspicion and paranoia that characterised the apartheid regime hasn’t disappeared and Milla’s new found independence is put to the test when she meets a man whom the agency has been spying on. My favourite section of the book was that involving Lemmer the bodyguard. There is clearly plenty of back story to Lemmer and a quick look through other books by Meyer reveals he is the protagonist in Blood Safari. There were a couple of references to the plot of this previous book but nothing that impaired my enjoyment of the character. The final protagonist, Mat Joubert, can be seen as the conscience of South Africa. A former policeman he is clearly an honourable man struggling in the corporate ethic of screwing as much money as you possibly can out of your client. Yet it is the police force that he left which has contributed to the inertia and failure to investigate properly the missing husband.

All three narrative sections left me wanting more and I began to panic as I reached the final twenty or so pages that the strands wouldn’t come together. They did, but if I have one criticism of this excellent book is that I would have preferred the denouement to be slightly longer. But it isn’t often I read a book and immediately want to read that author’s back catalogue. But Deon Meyer is one such writer that I’m already looking forward to reading more of.

This book proved a firm favourite with many bloggers. Other reviews can be found at Petrona, Reactions to Reading, Mysteries in Paradise and The Game’s Afoot.

Thanks to Michael J Malone for recommending this author and giving me his copy of the book.

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21 thoughts on “Review: Deon Meyer – Trackers

  1. Sarah – I’m so glad you liked this book as much as you did. I agree completely about Meyer’s work, too. I think the thing I like best is that Meyer makes his characters well-rounded and sympathetic, even as they’re also flawed. And yes he ties the threads of this story together effectively (even if it takes ’til the last 20 pages to do so).

    • I agree most of Meyer’s characters are flawed in some way, Margot, and I hadn’t thought about that. It’s quite a skill eliciting sympathy at the same time isn’t it?

  2. One author I will eventually catch up with I hope, Sarah! I have heard so many good things, but time is limited and my reading time is not always in the leisure category. I feel I am missing out here…

  3. Yey…another Deon Meyer fan…he really is a treat. One of the things I most admire is that his books are all quite different – he reminds me a little of Reginald Hill in that way as he tries new kinds of structure, style, character types and so on rather than writing the same book again and again as some authors seem content to do..

    • Interesting comparison to Reginald Hill. As this is the first book I’ve read of Meyer’s I can’t really comment – but I’m going to bear it in mind as I read others.

  4. P.S. As a side note per your point about AC being reactionary in one of her books, I agree. I stopped reading her books and parted company with the Belgian detective when I was 19, decades ago when I found quite reactionary attitudes, including bigotry towards immigrants and Jewish people. So I made a clean break and stopped reading her books. It’s not worth it to me to be aggravated when I’m reading for pleasure, distraction and entertainment.
    As a note of explanation, my grandparents on one side of my family fled Russian tsarist-occupied Poland and anti-Semitic pogroms in 1907. So I have no patience with bigotry in my fiction reading.

    • Thanks Kathy. I should say that I’m a big AC fan and she is a huge comfort read for me. However, some of her later books – particularly from the 1960s I think show her dismay at how the world is evolving – Passenger to Frankfurt etc and I don’t care for these. I understand why you would stop reading her. Your family history is fascinating and tragic and we are shaped by our past aren’t we? Interesting what you say about her attitude to immigrants because a theme throughout her books is the English person’s attitude to the clearly foreign Poirot. But times and books have changed and there is plenty of other authors to read….

  5. I was intrigued with Lemmer and that’s about it. While this book didn’t work for me, I did purchase Blood Safari to read later. I didn’t care for the structure of this novel but I am in the minority. Deon Meyer can write but for me its about finding the right book to get into.

  6. I should have clarified that I didn’t mean European immigrants in reference to Agatha Christie’s prejudices. I meant immigrants from the Middle East, Asia, Africa, people of color. She makes a lot of unkind allusions about various nationalities in her books. The original title of one was horrendous, which I’ll not repeat, but the publisher retitled it. Also, a lot of her remarks are anti-Semitic.
    I just did a Google search and came up with several examples quickly, including a book where one character knows another is a “Jewess” (not the greatest word to begin with) because she loves money — a terrible stereotype.
    So, it’s easy to find these examples. And in the 1960s when I was reading some of the Poirot books, I got fed up and quit.

  7. By the way about my grandparents, my grandmother came from a family of 13 in Russia-occupied Poland. The 7 who survived typhus came to the States 1913 and before. My grandmother worked for the Triangle factory but was out sick on the day of the 1911 fire, which killed 146, mostly immigrant women and girls. She lost many friends. But she was feisty and had the strongest backbone ever. She lived to 98 and five of her siblings lived well into their 80s.

  8. On Deon Meyer, I tried to read this book, but couldn’t get into it. I liked 13 Hours very much and will put Seven Days on library reserve.

    • What an interesting history Kathy. I don’t know anything about the Triangle company and I can only imagine what it must be like to be a stranger in a new country. I lived abroad myself and know how disorientating it can be. As you say, your grandmother must have had plenty of courage and determination to make a new life for herself and her family.

      Interestingly enough, although I forgot to put it into my review, I found Trackers a little difficult to get into. But I then found it well worth the effort.

  9. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on New York’s Lower East Side employed mostly immigrant women and girls. The exit doors were kept locked. On March 25, 1911, there was a terrible fire. Exits, staircases were locked. Fire escapes didn’t have ladders to the ground and fire truck ladders couldn’t reach them. As a result, 146 workers died in the fire or jumped to their deaths. The stories are heartbreaking. One single mother died, and her five children went to orphanages. Last year was the Centennial and there were commemorations for weeks. My grandmother, as I said, was home sick, but lost many young friends.
    In the garment industry at that time, there were no fire safety laws or protections. The working conditions were terrible. Before the fire, there had been a three-month strike.
    My grandmother was someone to whom the other women would bring their grievances, as she was fearless and not intimidated by anyone, including the factory owners and managers.
    After the fire, the first fire safety laws were implemented in New York in workplaces. Also, the factories became unionized.
    Anyway, sorry to take up space on the blog on this. There is a lot of information online about this fire and the fire codes put in place afterwards. Sadly, these fires still happen, as in Karache, Pakistan this week, killing 289 trapped workers.

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