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