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Crime Beat

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Crime Beat: Extract 2 from Life is a Thriller

In this extract from the book Life is a Thriller – Investigating African Crime Fiction, edited by Anja Oed and Christine Matzke, and published by Rudiger Koppe Verlag, Geoffrey V. Davis takes a look at Deon Meyer’s crime fiction.

‘Old loyalties and new aspirations’:

the post-apartheid crime fiction of Deon Meyer

Geoffrey V. Davis[1]

In the world of South African crime fiction Deon Meyer has few predecessors. There are good reasons for this. In the South Africa of apartheid, as Meyer (Groene­wald 2007) himself has pointed out, “you could not really have police crime thrillers […]. It is very difficult to have a cop as a hero if he works for an evil regime. You don’t tend to find crime thrillers in any community where a ‘non-democratic’ situation prevails”. No policeman, white or black, who worked for the apartheid regime was likely to elicit the reader’s empathy. Quite the opposite, in fact. More often than not, literary representations of the police would either portray the police, and particularly members of the Security Branch, as brutal agents of an oppressive regime, as for example in André Brink’s Dry White Season (1979), or, where the policeman was black, they would focus on his struggle to confront criticism from the younger generation for allowing himself to be co-opted by the regime rather than working against it, on his vain attempt to justify actions regarded by his own community as betrayal, and on his wrestling with his conscience, as for example in Percy Mtwa’s play Bopha! (1986).

Meyer’s point notwithstanding, there were some exceptions. One writer who applied himself to detective fiction during the years of apartheid was Wessel Ebersohn. His decidedly anti-apartheid crime novels are set firmly within the highly significant period of 1976–1990, that is from the Soweto uprising through the various States of Emergency imposed from the mid-1980s to the end of the apartheid era. To a considerable extent the novels chart the demise of the apartheid system, revealing the moral perversities attendant on the process, vilifying the ideological lunacies of right-wing Afrikaner politics and analysing the fears and anxieties which approaching social transition generated in white, especially Afrikaner, society. In Ebersohn’s fiction – A Lonely Place to Die (1979), Divide the Night (1981) and Closed Circle (1990) – apartheid itself determines the criminal environment, the criminals are not infrequently the police, more especially the Special Branch, and the genre of detective fiction is put into service as a political analysis of “the national state of mind” (Ebersohn 1990: 216). Ebersohn’s protagon­ist, Yudel Gordon, is neither policeman nor detective, but rather a Pretoria-based, Jewish psychologist working for the Department of Prisons, well-versed in the intricacies of the criminal mind and, although sometimes initially perceived by black people as an agent of the system, entirely sympathetic to their plight. His legitimacy in the eyes of those whose cause he defends – and in those of the reader – is demonstrated through the manner in which he contrives to distance himself from a system he loathes while remaining committed to a country he loves.[2]

A no less critical writer who specialised in crime fiction during the apartheid period was James McClure, who left the country for Britain in 1965. Apart from their primary interest as detective fiction, McClure’s novels – among them The Steam Pig (1971), The Caterpillar Cop (1972), Gooseberry Fool (1974), The Sunday Hangman (1977)[3] and The Song Dog (1991) – constitute a well-observed, detailed and recognisable portrait of South Africa, whereby his experience in journalism serves him extremely well. He views with sympathy the world of Africans whose lives have been so completely disrupted by the whites. The African poor inhabit the margins of all his novels and McClure finds memorable images to direct the reader’s attention to their deprivation. Set recognisably in the 1960s and early 1970s at the height of the apartheid period his novels describe the daily workings of the apartheid system. In so doing they reveal much about the ideology of racism and the psychology of those who practise it. McClure’s memorable pair of detect­ives, Lieutenant Kramer and Sergeant Zondi, are Afrikaner and Zulu respectively and the relationship between them is at the core of what McClure has to say about South Africa. And like the works of his contemporary Ebersohn, his books have much to tell us about the possibilities of the genre.

In the post-apartheid period there have been many new developments in South African literature. Older writers, freed of the constraints of the apartheid era, are branching out in new directions, while numerous new writers have come to the fore. It is perhaps not surprising that a number of them are exploring inter­nationally popular genres such as crime fiction or the thriller. Among them are: Richard Kunzman, Angela Makholwa, Mike Nicol and Margie Orford. Nicol, who offers a particularly interesting example since, after a distinguished career, he has set himself some challenging new priorities by embarking on hardboiled crime fiction in the American mode, remarked recently that post-apartheid South African crime fiction “is in its infancy […] we are a long way off creating a market for ourselves in, say, the way the Australians have done with their crime fiction” (quoted in Orford 2007: 2).

True enough – but the process of creating that market does now seem to have begun. And one writer who is indubitably part of it is Deon Meyer. Meyer’s first novel was published in Afrikaans in the year that the country’s new non-racial, democratic government came to power, 1994, and since then he has been enjoying increasing success at home and overseas. As the Johannesburg Mail & Guardian has noted, “Meyer’s major success has been in breaking through to the international market” (Groenewald 2007). By now there is abundant confirmation of this: his work is being translated into many other languages, thirteen to date; Heart of the Hunter, Dead at Daybreak and Blood Safari have all been published in the United States; and he is winning prestigious literary prizes for crime fiction overseas, in France and Germany for instance.[4]

He has also garnered some very flattering reviews in the overseas press, where he has been compared with major authors of thrillers such as John Le Carré. The London Times reviewing Devil’s Peak describes its author as “one of the sharpest and most perceptive thriller writers around” and goes on to compare his depiction of Cape Town with the Los Angeles of Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler (Millar 2007). Praise indeed. (The same critic also invites us to compare Meyer’s novels with a good bottle of Cape red wine!) Matthew Lewin (2009), reviewing Blood Safari for The Guardian, thinks that Meyer is “far and away the best crime writer in South Africa”, finds the novel “as exciting as any reader of thrillers has a right to demand” and credits his writing with being “full of insight into the problems of South Africa”.

Deon Meyer is unusual for at least two reasons. Firstly, he is one of the few Afrikaans writers – apart perhaps from André Brink and Antjie Krog – who are becoming well known outside South Africa. Secondly, the novels he writes in Afrikaans are thrillers and, as he has himself asserted, “There has never been a culture in Afrikaans of thriller writing.” That is reason enough for him to wish to “develop a truly African model of the genre” (Nicol and Meyer 2006), which is a rather unexpected, if increasingly successful direction for post-apartheid literature to be moving in.

Meyer is at a certain disadvantage, writing as he does in a minority language and one not spoken outside its country of origin. Yet he is adamant in his commitment to his language. He claims that “the Afrikaans versions [of his books] will always have the best context and colloquialisms” (Groenewald 2007) and listening to him reading passages from his work in the original Afrikaans even those of us only marginally familiar with the language can gain some sense of his creative facility in his mother tongue. Most of us will, of course, be unable to assess what might have been lost in the translations from the Afrikaans, although K.L. Seegers’ versions often read remarkably well in English. Perhaps we should take on trust the judgement of the – evidently South African – reviewer of Devil’s Peak for the London Guardian, who, putting on record his own changed view of Afri­kaans post-apartheid as no longer a language which had been “force-fed” him at school but as one which now has “real depth and sophistication”, attests to the excellence of the translation and asserts that one can “at times hear the flow of the original Afrikaans” (Lewin 2007).

For the reader who knows South Africa and especially the Western Cape and the Lowveld well, Meyer’s novels with their well-chosen locations and detailed descriptions of place offer the constant pleasure of recognition. And indeed, one does mostly know where one is – at the Waterfront in Cape Town, in a much patronised Long St. Café or in one’s favourite Indian restaurant in Church Street Mall. Dead before Dying is set entirely around the Cape; Heart of the Hunter is again set in the Western Cape, partly in the township of Gugulethu, before the chase which forms the core of the action draws the reader off across the country north to Botswana; Devil’s Peak, as the title implies, is once again set in the Cape Town area, but also further afield in the Northern Cape and the Free State (the actual Devil’s Peak is the setting for only one short scene). Blood Safari begins in an upper-class residence overlooking the Old Harbour of Hermanus on the Indian Ocean coast just above Cape Town, moves to Loxton, the very ordinary spot in the Karoo where the male protagonist has chosen to isolate himself, and then takes us up to the game parks of the Lowveld in the Limpopo Province of north-eastern South Africa on the edge of the Kruger Park.

Although Meyer’s novels are thrillers first and foremost, they do develop credible characters with real psychological depth. In all the books the protagonists are flawed characters struggling with their personal lives. Throughout Dead before Dying Mat Joubert is attempting to come to terms with the death two years earlier of his wife, his memories of her repeatedly plunging him into deep depression. In the same novel as well as in Devil’s Peak Benny Griessel, thrown out by his wife after seventeen years of marriage and given six months to dry out, tries to over­come his alcoholism. In Heart of the Hunter and Devil’s Peak Thobela Mpayi­pheli suffers the loss of his partner Miriam and his son Pakamile respectively, and his whole life is thrown off course. In Blood Safari the bodyguard Lemmer seeks to escape his past and to suppress his propensity to violence by settling in a remote corner of the Karoo. Their “rebirth”, as Dead before Dying has it (DBD 5), takes various forms.

Detective Sergeant Joubert first has to contend with the problem of how to meet his new boss’s stipulations regarding physical fitness: he is over-weight, eats too much, drinks to excess, and when he finally does convince himself that he should take up sport and reluctantly goes swimming, he manages no more than two lengths before he is out-of-breath. His only sporadically successful attempts to follow a diet and lead a healthy life form a minor comic theme in this novel – especially if the reader has similar problems!

Joubert also attempts to reawaken his sexual instinct, on occasion with disas­trously comic effect, as when he succumbs to the charms of his neighbour’s pre­co­cious daughter, only to be thwarted in his purpose by the arrival of his drunk and incapable colleague, Benny. As an attractive man – and what fictional detect­ive is not? – Joubert is often the target of attempts at seduction (amusingly even by the professor of Criminology at the University of Stellenbosch). His reinvigorated interest in the opposite sex becomes a measure of his rehabilitation and when at the end of the novel, he goes off to the opera with the widow of one of the serial killer’s victims, it is clear that his healing process has been successfully completed.

Benny Griessel has alcohol to contend with and he has gone a long way down the road toward losing his job. As his superior officer Joubert remarks: “I have never seen a person so completely fuck-up his life without any help from outside” (DP 42) – but nevertheless he still believes in him and gives him moral support, since, as both recognise, “they had too much history” (DP 33). Likewise his chil­dren, to whom he is greatly attached and who he feels he is in the process of losing when his wife throws him out, retain their faith in him (DP 262); it is they who sustain him when he doubts whether his wife actually does want him back. Benny’s vision was always to become a policeman (DP 221) and in spite of his alcohol problem he certainly is a dedicated officer. But when he explains to Tho­bela why it is irresponsible to take the law into one’s own hands (DP 364), only to do precisely that himself when he executes the drug traders identified by his daughter as those who raped her (DP 394), the reader may wonder whether the characterisation does not sacrifice consistency to the constraints of providing a neat ending. Or perhaps Meyer was seeking to show there is violence in everyone and sometimes it will out.

Thobela has a strong moral code and sense of loyalty to his former comrades in the struggle. He knows none of them would ever sell out (HH 43), which is why he agrees to act on behalf of one of them: “My debt to Johnny Kleintjes is a man’s debt, a debt of honour”, he says; he has to “choose the right way”, “do the right thing”, even if it is at great personal risk and involves a temporary – and in the event fateful – separation from his beloved family (HH 32-33). In Heart of the Hunter he becomes a man for whom family – which means Miriam and Pakamile – has come to mean everything. It is his family which enables him to put his former life behind him and to change (HH 43). His goodness is constantly emphasised. He is the model of a reliable employee, never absent, always punctual. To the surprise of his employer, when he ‘steals’ a BMW motorcycle he leaves a note of apology; he even promises to pay for any wear and tear (HH 74); and at the end of the novel he actually purchases the machine.

In the later novel, Devil’s Peak, however, he has to cope with the feelings of guilt and self-reproach arising from the tragic deaths of his wife and son within a month of one another (HH 277; DP 7). With both of them gone, he has nothing left in his life; all his hopes for the future – a new life together settling down on the farm he has purchased at his home place far from the Cape – are as nought (DP 31). And so he decides to take up arms against injustice, since in his view it is the country that has failed him. He thus becomes a vigilante, killing those who abuse children but escape punishment. For him this becomes a meaningful way of dealing with his grief, “a way forward” as he puts it (DP 69). He even regards it as something com­mensurate with his earlier involvement in the liberation struggle, as “his vocation” (DP 80). In spite of his activity as a vigilante – and on one occasion he does eli­minate the wrong person (DP 186, 243) – he is portrayed throughout as an essentially good man, as evinced for instance in his concern to feed street children (DP 162-164).

The personal history of Lemmer, the bodyguard of Blood Safari, is revealed through the rather unusual device of having him narrate his life story to his client after she has been shot and is lying in a hospital bed comatose and oblivious to what he is saying. It is almost as if he were unburdening himself of a confession. Lemmer, we learn, is the child of a broken home in Seapoint, his father a violent drunkard given to beating his son, his mother frustrated and brazenly unfaithful until their inevitable separation. Lemmer feels he has inherited his father’s temper, has trouble suppressing a violent streak in himself and joins a police karate club in an effort to control his impulses. From there he is recruited as a bodyguard, in which capacity he protects a series of government ministers, white and black suc­ces­sively, until he is himself replaced in terms of black empowerment. Pro­voked into a fight by a gang of youths, one of whom dies in the course of it, he is given an undeserved six-year prison sentence for manslaughter. Out on parole after having served four years, he tries to deal with his problems living a quiet, secluded life as part of the community in the small Karoo town of Loxton, a process which is interrupted when the action of the novel opens.

Lemmer is an interesting creation. The abuses of his childhood have left him with an identity crisis, a powerful desire to belong to the kind of community he has never known and an aversion to the rich, especially the Afrikaner rich. Not surprisingly in his circumstances he is greatly impressed when the National Party cabinet minister to whom he is bodyguard expounds – somewhat untypically! – the African philosophy of ubuntu to him, which he is convinced the white man must espouse if he is to survive on the continent. At the same time, Lemmer has adopted a number of precepts, which he amusingly formulates as “Lemmer’s Laws” and which he tries not without difficulty to abide by: “Lemmer’s First Law: Don’t get involved […] Lemmer’s Second Law: Trust nobody” (BS 12). When confronted by his new charge, the attractive Emma LeRoux, he predictably fails to observe the first of these and, having become involved but still unsure of whether she is lying or not, he has a good deal of trouble observing the second too. Lemmer’s efforts to reconstruct his life, interrupted by the commission to protect Emma and the sequence of violent events that follow from it, are resumed at the end of the book, when he is seen jogging through Loxton, greeted by various mem­bers of the local populace, who are now the community he has been seeking. When he notices Emma’s car parked outside his house in the distance, he begins, in the final words of the novel, “to run faster” (BS 372).

Since Meyer’s novels are set firmly in the period of transition from the old to the new South Africa, between the apartheid and post-apartheid societies, the pasts of the characters assume particular importance. They all have roots in the earlier apartheid society. Some were inside the country; some were in exile; some partic­i­pated in the liberation struggle inside and outside the country.

Just how important the legacy of the past is may be illustrated from Heart of the Hunter, for here many of the major characters have participated in the liberation struggle in various capacities and have now returned home. Janina, for instance, has an almost typical history: rural upbringing, brilliant career at university, first political activity there, then membership of the ANC underground, but as a white and an Afrikaner she has risen only slowly through the ranks of the party, feels she has little to show for “a decade in the Struggle” (HH 52) and is frustrated at her lack of progress. This frustration contributes largely to her betrayal. Johnny Kleintjes has been in the ANC’s intelligence services abroad and like Thobela has received military training in East Germany; Mazibuko, a policeman of quite vicious brutality, is the son of one who ‘sold out’ under torture and revealed the names of his comrades. And then there is Thobela himself, who after the 1976 Soweto uprising went off to join the struggle at the age of seventeen, a former operative in Europe and America, East-German trained and loaned out to work as an assassin because he was such a good marksman, later using an assegai purchased in an Amsterdam curio shop to carry out assassinations at close quar­ters in the traditional manner. He is deeply aware of his Xhosa past and beholden to his ancestors right back to Phalo and Magona. It is in Heart of the Hunter that his past catches up with him and begins the destruction of that future. When we first meet him in Heart of the Hunter he is working as a humble cleaner and general ‘dogsbody’ in a garage. In Devil’s Peak he is still unable to find work (DP 120).

In South Africa the period of transition from the old to a new society has been marked by major changes and these figure prominently in the fictions. The prob­lems of post-apartheid integration play a role here, since ANC cadres are being integrated into institutions of the former apartheid state and people have to cope with these changes, whereby there is no longer a struggle between ‘us’ and ‘them’ and former enemies are no longer enemies.

Some of the changes have been implemented to facilitate black empowerment, for instance in the staffing of police and intelligence organisations. Thus, in Heart of the Hunter the director of the intelligence services is now a Zulu. In Blood Safari the inspector Lemmer has to contend with is the black officer, Jack Phatudi, who also happens to be the nephew of a Sibashwa chief. In Dead before Dying a new black Minister of Law and Order is in charge and an ANC member formerly active in the struggle has been appointed Commanding Officer of the Murder and Robbery squad at Bellville South. He has worked at Scotland Yard, is deeply unpopular and is an advocate of change, which he knows all his officers resist. He attempts to trans­form the service by imposing new management principles, insisting that his men become physically fit and undergo psychological tests. He warns them, too, that their jobs are on the line because “there are people in disadvantaged communities who have to be uplifted” (DBD 22) – affirmative action is the order of the day. Commenting on the transition in Devil’s Peak, Benny Griessel remarks that he and Mat Joubert remain “the last two old soldiers who had survived the antics of the old regime and affirmative action of the new area” (DP 239) – and in that common experience lies the source of their friendship and solidarity.

Since Meyer is writing out of a country which is passing through such signifi­cant times it is perhaps to be expected that one of the more interesting facets of his fiction is the manner in which he portrays the New South Africa. His work demonstrates how the writer of thrillers need not eschew the opportunity to raise important social issues. Throughout all the novels he thus displays an awareness of the legacy of the old society and an understanding of the problems and benefits of the new social order. Indeed, he often exhibits a wry perspective on the relation­ship between the two, as when in the detective’s office of Devil’s Peak the portrait of the then president Thabo Mbeki is seen hanging askew in a cheap frame – no doubt symbolically; or as when in Dead before Dying the new black commanding officer points out that “Murder and Robbery were officially part of the New South Africa” (DBD 13).[5]

In Meyer’s New South Africa local and international drug traders are operating on the Cape Flats; Mitchell’s Plain has become a “battlefield” (DB 71). In a country where some believe that raping a child can cure AIDS – as in the case of Envers Davids in Devil’s Peak – there has been a dramatic increase in crimes against chil­dren, which the state is apparently unable to stem. When, in that novel, Thobela delves into on-line newspaper archives, he discovers “a never-ending stream of crimes against children. Murder, rape, mistreatment, harassment, assault, abuse” (DP 97). Thobela is aware, too, that “the contrasts in the country were too great” (DP 39), that the root causes of crime are inequality and poverty, as in the case of those who rob the petrol station in Devil’s Peak who have grown up in the impoverished former ‘homeland’ of the Transkei.

Blood Safari, the most recent of Meyer’s thrillers available at the time of writing, is set six years into the New South Africa and it too paints a rich portrait of the country. It is set, as we have seen, in the far north-east of the country and this, as Frank Wolhuter, the manager of the Mogale Rehabilitation Centre, cannot forbear to remark, is “another world from Cape Town […] This is still the old South Africa. No, that’s not entirely true. The mindset of everyone, black and white, is in the old regime, but all the problems are New South Africa. Racism and progress, hate and cooperation, suspicion and reconciliation … those things do not lie well together” (BS 72). In other words, it is an area where fundamental conflicts of interest and attitudes are still to be found – and many of these will come into play in the novel.

This novel, as we shall see too, focuses on a rather different set of social and political problems than hitherto in Meyer’s œuvre. Crime, of course, remains ubiquitous and its consequences are pervasive. Rich whites live behind high walls, security gates, burglar bars and in reach of panic buttons. They employ the services of security companies whose ‘immediate armed response’ notices adorn their properties. In such conditions it is not surprising that outfits such as Body Armour, for which Lemmer works, make rich pickings protecting diplomats, foreigners and the wealthy. It is a society, which subscribes to values for which Lemmer has nothing but scorn: not for him “the new consumerism” and the “new urban aggres­sion” (BS 182). In the course of his long talk to the comatose Emma he delivers himself of a castigating critique of white and black alike – the whites, who “complained about affirmative action and corruption, but … forget that they had benefited from the same for fifty or sixty years” and “the blacks [who] blamed apartheid for everything” (BS 182). Not surprisingly, the rags to riches story that is Emma’s own family history – her father had achieved great wealth contracted to supply gears to ARMSCOR – causes Lemmer to wonder “whether she ever thought about the source of her wealth, built on the foundation of apartheid and international sanctions” (BS 49). To him her wealth is a constant source of suspicion.

The South Africa we encounter in Blood Safari is a country of game reserves, not only of the vast and famous Kruger National Park, but also of smaller, privately run parks like the Mogale Rehabilitation Centre, established primarily to preserve the Cape vulture (BS 61-66), the Songimvelo Game Reserve run by the multi-millionaire Stefan Moller (to which the public are not admitted) (BS 91-97), and innumerable lesser enterprises such as the Molomahlapi Private Game Reserve, and the Makutswi Wildlife Ranch, the Mohlolobe Private Game Reserve which basically provide what Lemmer dismisses as “Africa for the rich American tourist, eco-friendly five-star luxury” (BS 41). Lemmer is characteristically unimpressed with such places: initially at least he views game reserves with sceptical irony: “In my humble opinion”, he concludes, “Mogale Rehabilitation Centre was an ecolog­i­cal rearrangement of the deckchairs on the Titanic, like most green initiatives” (BS 81), but later he will have cause to modify that opinion.

Two issues are of particular concern in this remote rural setting: land claims and ecology. And as Meyer shows us they are not only interlocked but frequently in conflict. As Lemmer and Emma first discover from Inspector Phatudi, there is a fundamental conflict of interest in the area, the black people believing that “the whites care only for the animals [but they] belong to the people. They are not the animals of the whites” (BS 58). In addition the local communities have land claims pending. These give rise to much contention: Wolhuter alleges that land restored to black occupation is land wasted since it would only be sold off to white property developers and to return it would thus eventually mean the end of the Kruger Park (BS 73-74); Phatudi justifies the claims in terms of the historical dispossession of his people, blames the whites for exterminating the wildlife in the first place and thinks the problem can only be solved when jobs are created for his people and their poverty ended.

Manifestly the land claims question is related to that of environmental protec­tion and wildlife preservation. Remarkably for a thriller, Meyer allocates con­sider­able space to the articulation of different points of view on ecological questions. First there is Donnie Branca’s lecture on why such unprepossessing creatures as vultures should be preserved (BS 62-66). Then there is Stef Moller’s disquisition on the history of mankind, concluding with his statement that “the only way to keep a proper ecological balance today is to keep the people out” (BS 95) and his expressed conviction that the game reserves are failing under the pressure of tourism. And finally we have the “eco-terrorists” threatening the local farmers for damaging the environment, intimidating the communities who claim land by poisoning their dogs and shooting at them (BS 218), and as Donnie later reveals, generally trying to prevent environmental degradation by any means possible, legal or otherwise (BS 278). In many ways Blood Safari represents an interesting new departure for Meyer. It is indeed refreshing to find him incorporating issues of such ecological interest into a thriller, issues which are of course of importance far beyond the borders of South Africa.

Before concluding, it is perhaps appropriate to point to two further aspects of Meyer’s work which contribute greatly to its success with readers. The first is “the intricacy of his plotting” (Lewin 2007) on which he has been much complimented. Two novels may serve briefly as examples for the complexity of his plots.

Dead before Dying constructs a very involved plot about a serial killer whose victims appear to have no connection at all with one another; the mystery is thus inordinately difficult to unravel. It also demonstrates Meyer’s skill in placing red herrings before the reader: the fact that the killer uses a Mauser provokes all manner of speculation, not least that there might be an Afrikaner nationalist element at work since such weapons were used in the Anglo-Boer War (DBD 265). Then there is the sub-plot concerning a series of curious bank robberies committed by an inordinately polite robber who, as it turns out, is a make-up artist with a toy gun who only wants to relieve the bank of the exact amount he is convinced it has cheated him out of (DBD 363). It thus has nothing at all to do with the serial killings of the main plot – but it does supply a degree of comic relief.

The second example is Devil’s Peak, which develops parallel narratives: that of the vigilante who kills those who abuse children and that which Christine tells to a clergyman in a rural Sotho-speaking area of the Free State, her “great fraud” (DP 35) as it is described early on in the novel without the reader discovering what this is until the end of the novel. As it turns out, both narratives are concerned with the same issue: the protection of children from violence.

Secondly, it is remarkable how well researched Meyer’s novels prove to be. Here again, he has been much complimented on this. Writing in the Mail & Guardian Yolandi Groenewald (2007) praised him for his “meticulous research” in the case of Devil’s Peak, a novel which led him to interview sex workers, police psychologists and the owners of Cape Town curio shops, among others. Heart of the Hunter profited greatly from his impromptu consultations with “a never-ending list of Xhosa, Zulu, Tswana, Ndebele and Sotho shoeshine people, businessmen, taxi drivers, porters and co-passengers on business flights between Cape Town and Johannesburg” (HH 420) not to mention experts on the use of the assegai, repre­sentatives of BMW and ex-missionaries (HH 421)! This novel is particularly remarkable for the sensitivity with which Meyer portrays Thobela’s African heri­tage and the degree of attention he pays to the correct use of African languages.

In terms of the research which has gone into the writing of his novels, Blood Safari is probably unique in Meyer’s work. For as the “Acknowledgements” make clear, this is a book which grew not only out of a considerable amount of back­ground reading but also out of what the author had been able to learn on several visits to the Moholoholo Animal Research Centre in Limpopo Province. As he puts it, “every time I listened to the presentations by Brian Jones and his personnel, I was inspired by their dedication, passion and sacrifice, especially the incredible work they do with vultures” (BS 373). It is, thus, to their commitment and to the author’s admiration for their work that we ultimately owe a fine and quite unusual thriller.

Deon Meyer has proved himself a master of the thriller. He knows how to pace the action, create suspense, and weave an intricate plot. He populates his novels with characters who have credibility and depth. He recognises the importance of the legacy of a past rooted in apartheid while remaining committed to a non-racial future. He addresses issues of importance in the New South Africa whether these concern drugs, crime, child abuse, environmental protection or the preservation of wildlife. And of course, not the least of his talents is that he writes books that are vastly entertaining page-turners. Single-handed, he has created a new literary genre for himself – the Afrikaans thriller.

Works cited

Brink, André, 1979: A Dry White Season. London: W.H. Allen.

Davis, Geoffrey, 2006: “Political loyalties and the intricacies of the criminal mind: the detective fiction of Wessel Ebersohn”. In: Christine Matzke and Susanne Mühleisen (eds.): Postcolonial Postmortems. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 181-199.

Ebersohn, Wessel, 1980: A Lonely Place to Die. New York: Vintage.

Ebersohn, Wessel, 1983: Divide the Night. Feltham, Middlesex: Hamlyn.

Ebersohn, Wessel, 1990: Closed Circle. London: Gollancz.

Groenewald, Yolandi, 2007: “A thrill in every language”. Mail & Guardian, 10th August. <> [22nd December 2007].

Lewin, Matthew, 2007: “Bring me my assegai”. The Guardian, 21st July. <http://> [22nd De­cem­­­­ber 2007].

Lewin, Matthew, 2009: “Blood Safari”. The Guardian, 18th April. http://www. [9th Aug­ust 2009].

McClure, James, 1971: The Steam Pig. London: Gollancz.

McClure, James, 1972: The Caterpillar Cop. London: Gollancz.

McClure, James, 1974: The Gooseberry Fool. London: Gollancz.

McClure, James, 1977: The Sunday Hangman. London: Macmillan.

McClure, James, 1991: The Song Dog. London: Faber and Faber.

Meyer, Deon, 1996: Feniks. Cape Town: Queillerie.

Meyer, Deon, 1999: Dead before Dying. English translation of Feniks. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Meyer, Deon, 2000: Orion. Cape Town: Human and Rousseau.

Meyer, Deon, 2000: Dead at Daybreak. English translation of Orion. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Meyer, Deon, 2002: Proteus. Cape Town: Human and Rousseau.

Meyer, Deon, 2003: Heart of the Hunter. English translation of Proteus. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Meyer, Deon, 2005: Infanta. Cape Town: Human and Rousseau.

Meyer, Deon, 2007: Devil’s Peak. English translation of Infanta. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Meyer, Deon, 2007: Onsigbaar. Cape Town: Human and Rousseau.

Meyer, Deon, 2008: Blood Safari. English translation of Onsigbaar. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Millar, Peter, 2007. “Devil’s Peak” The Times, June 23rd. <http://entertainment.> [22nd December 2007].

Mtwa, Percy, 1986: “Bopha!” In: Duma Ndlovu (ed.): Woza Afrika! An Anthology of South African Plays. New York: George Braziller, 225-257.

Nicol, Mike and Deon Meyer, 2006: “ABSA Chain: Mike Nicol in conversation with Deon Meyer”. < item&news_id=2427&cause_ id =1270> [22nd December 2007].

Orford, Margie, 2007. “Crime Wave on the Rise”. Mail & Guardian, 2nd-8th November, 8-9.

[1]    Please note that this article was written before Meyer‘s novels Thirteen Hours (2009) and Trackers (2011) were published.

[2]    I have discussed Ebersohn in another article (Davis 2006).

[3]    This novel was banned in South Africa.

[4]    In this paper the titles of Meyer’s novels will be abbreviated as follows: Dead Before Dying (DBD) [originally published in Afrikaans as Feniks (1996)]; Dead at Daybreak (DD) [originally published in Afrikaans as Orion (2000)]; Heart of the Hunter (HH) [originally published in Afrikaans as Proteus (2002)]; Devil’s Peak (DP) [originally published in Afri­kaans as Infanta (2005)]; and Blood Safari (BS) [originally published in Afrikaans as Onsigbaar (2007)].

[5]    The remark is somewhat ambiguous since he is referring to the police department which deals with Murder and Robbery.


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