After I’d finished the excellent Trackers last month I had the choice of either reading some of Meyer’s earlier books or his latest, 7 Days. His most recent book won, mainly because of the tempting blurb and I was once more impressed by the plotting skills of this excellent writer.
The South African Police Services receive an e-mail written by a sniper who threatens to kill a policeman every day until the murder of Hanneke Sloet is brought to justice. Sloet was an ambitious young lawyer who was found murdered in her new apartment with a single stab wound to her chest. When a policeman is shot in the leg, it is clear that a sniper intends to carry out his threat and Benny Griessel is assigned to the reopened case. Greissel is a recovering alcoholic, with a girlfriend who is in the process of falling off the wagon. In seven days he has to find the killer of Hannah and keep himself away from the bottle, while his colleague Captain Mbali Kaleni tries to track down the sniper.
The idea of sniper targeting policeman is a bold premise and one that has been addressed in crime fiction before – most notably McBain’s Cop Hater. However, Meyer brings a fresh approach to the subject by linking it to an old unsolved murder investigation. As I would expect from Meyer, the book was well plotted, full of twists and turns as potential suspects were examined and then cleared. The murdered lawyer dominates the book, which shows the power of good characterisation as we only see her personality through the eyes of others.
Benny Griessel and his developing relationship with the singer, Alexa, form an interesting subplot. Like in Mons Kallentoft’s Autumn Killing, we get a realistic portrayal of the effects of alcohol dependency, although Benny seems to be coping well with staying dry. Captain Mbali Kaleni, the woman in charge of finding the sniper I found to be less engaging, perhaps because her backstory was developed in a previous book, Thirteen Hours, which I haven’t yet read.
This book had a different feel to Trackers. It was slower paced and without the multiple narratives that made Trackers such an unusual read. Nevertheless it was an enjoyable read with an interesting and surprising resolution.
I received a copy of the book from the publishers. The book has also been reviewed at Eurocrime,
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.