Crime Beat: Extracts from this year’s krimis: (7) Icarus by Deon Meyer
Icarus by Deon Meyer
At 22:52 Major Mbali Kaleni’s cellphone rang.
“I’m sorry to call you at home, Mbali,” said Brigadier Musad Manie, commander of the Hawks in the Western Cape.
“I’m at the office, sir,” she said with a touch of reproof in her tone.
Manie understood his commander of the Serious and Violent Crimes group well. He knew better than to let this bother him. “Anything I should know?”
“No, sir. I’m waiting for my team to get back. They’ve just left Stellenbosch.”
“Captain Cupido should give me a full report within an hour, sir. They have put in a lot of work, but I don’t think there is a solid suspect yet.”
“Okay, Mbali … I’ve had a call from our National Commissioner. Now, I just want to let you know, I’ll manage it from my side, but . . . This thing about the database, you know, the clients of that company, the guy on Twitter making the names public . . .”
“Yes, sir, Captain Cloete has been keeping me posted.”
“Okay. The Commissioner says she is getting a lot of pressure from . . . well, from higher up, if you know what I mean.” He broached the topic warily: he had a strong suspicion what Kaleni’s reaction was going to be. “Now, I’m not . . .”
“Sir, I will not have my team distracted by . . .”
“Major, please, let me finish. I’m not saying you should do anything about it. I will manage it from my side, as I said. I just wanted to let you know, there is pressure, and there is concern. The word is that there is a member of parliament who has been contacted by the press in this regard, a very respected member of Parliament, a husband and a father. And apparently, this member of parliament is completely innocent, and is being implicated as part of a smear campaign by the oppo . . .”
“Sir, I do not believe that . . .”
“Me neither. But that’s not the point. I have to report back in the morning, and all I’m asking is, if there is any information pertaining to this leak of the database, please let me know.”
“Thank you, Mbali.”
Griessel drove back with Cupido. The Bottelary road was quiet at this time of night.
Cupido prepared his speech. Only beyond Devonvale was he ready to talk to Griessel.
“You know I’m your friend, Benna?”
Griessel sighed; he could guess where this was leading. “Vaughn, I don’t want to talk about the booze.”
“You don’t have to. I just want to make a speech; use it, don’t use it, your choice, it’s a free country. But if I’m your friend, it’s my duty, wraggies, Benna. Friendship is not saying the things you want to hear, but the things you need to hear. I understand this thing with Vollie Fish, Benna. And man, I understand the thing about The Giraffe getting killed. These things stick to a man’s clothes. Remember Barry Brezinsky of Narcotics? Barry the Whole Pole? Gunned down in his driveway just before he could testify? I was on that same case with him, Benna, he was the lead investigator, big drug syndicate. That morning I was standing next to his car, Barry dead there inside, blood everywhere, and his wife and children standing in the doorway and they didn’t cry, Benna, they just stared, with that look that says we don’t know what the fok we’re going to do now, the future had just evaporated, there was just desolation stretching out in front of them. Took me two years to get over it, he was like a bru’ to me, he was my mentor, Benna, from a wet-behind-the-ears constable, he made me the detective that I am. Lots of anger after Barry, I’m telling you now, a hell of a lot of anger, I wanted to go out and round up all the dealers and suppliers and beat each and every one to death with a blunt instrument. So I know the feeling. But I went to see a shrink, and he helped me a lot, Benna. There’s no shame …”
“I did see a shrink, Vaughn.”
“Go back, Benna.”
“She can’t help me.”
“But do you want to be helped, Benna?”
“Fuck you, Vaughn.”
“That’s okay. Let the anger come out. I can handle it. But let me say a few things you really don’t want to hear, ek sê dit in friendship, Benna, een dag sal jy versta’. Do you really want to be helped? Really? ‘Cause why, I scheme it’s a handy excuse. Shrink can’t help, so I drink. Fact is …”
“An excuse, Vaughn? An excuse? You have no fokken idea …”
“Fact is, the shrink can help …”
“How, Vaughn? How? How the fok can the shrink help? Is she just going to whip out a magic wand …? Did you … Why did Vollie Fish shoot his wife and children? Do you know why? Because I know, Vaughn. I know exactly. I know what he knew. And he knew he couldn’t hold it back any more. It was coming closer, growing bigger. More and more. When Frank asked tonight what are the big motives for murder, didn’t it make you think, Vaughn? Take the money motive, just the money motive, the house robberies, and street robberies and farm robberies and cash-in-transit robberies and shopping centre robberies and autobank robberies, more and more and more of them. And all of them more violent. It’s a cycle, Vaughn, the children seeing violence and experiencing violence since they were only this high, it’s what they know, it’s what they become. It’s not their fault, it’s their world. How are we going to save them? How are we going to turn this around? There are people streaming in over our borders, Vaughn, to come and rob us, because there’s money here, there’s progress here. We can’t stop the tide, it’s not ever going to draw back, you know how the world looks. And everything is on the rise, not just robbery. Domestic violence, revenge, everything just gets worse. The disease, the serial killers, more, every day there are more of them, and they are getting sicker, Vaughn. It’s like a … I don’t know, this moerse train that’s just picking up speed. The brakes are fucked, Vaughn – we are the brakes, and we are fucked …”
“How can you say that?” Cupido forgot about his carefully prepared speech; he was angry now. “You’re taking on my pride now. How many ouens have you and I put in tjoekie, this past year? How many? The SAPS, every day? Why are the courts so full, Benna, if we’re fucked? And the jails? That’s bullshit, Benna, we are a long way from being fucked …”
“How many dockets …”
“No, now you have to give me a chance, ‘cause that argument of yours won’t fly. “Cause crime is increasing we all have to sit and drink? That’s your solution? You think it’s an …”
“That’s not what I’m saying …”
“Now what are you saying, Benna? That just you can sit and suip, and the rest of us must struggle against crime? You think this is a unique situation here with us? Look at all the mighty First World countries, Benna. Take America. War on drugs, for decades, and they are losing it, in their moer in. Must they just sit back and suip, hey? D’you know how many boatloads of poor immigrants arrive there with them, in all those European countries? You think their crime is dropping? It’s the state of the world. If this job was easy, then anyone could do it. But no, anyone can’t do it. We can. We are the Hawks, pappie, the cream of the crop, best of the best. And you, Benny Griessel, you’re the best cop I know. By a long shot. When you’re sober. But now your head is full of all sorts of shit, and you like it, ‘cause it’s a lekker excuse for a dop. So, as your pal, as the ou who likes and respects you, I’m telling you tonight, man up, Benna. Grow a pair. Go back to that shrink and tell her, you’re not giving up therapy until your head is clean.”
Griessel said nothing.
Cupido tried to get his feelings back under control. When he spoke again, his voice was quieter, calmer: “Where’s the booze going to take you, Benna?”
Still Griessel was silent.
“Just think about it. Where’s the booze going to take you?”
At half past eleven Griessel found a place in Long Street that was still open. He quickly drank one double Jack at the counter, then he drove home. His body told him he should have had another one, but he controlled the thirst – he kept to the agreement he had made with himself, there beside Cupido.
He parked in the street in front of Alexa’s house. The lights were still on. He had expected that. He remained sitting. How was he going to handle it? After being so totally pissed last night, after he had ignored her calls and SMSes the whole day?
It depended on which Alexa he was going to find inside.
He got out, locked the car, and went in.
Alexa sat waiting for him in the sitting room.
“Hello, Benny,” she said. There was relief in her voice. He could see the tension in her body and mouth, but also the control, and he was grateful for it. He was suddenly, overwhelmingly aware of his love for her. He stood in no-man’s-land between the door and where she sat. He knew she would smell the alcohol if he kissed her, but he badly wanted to. They both needed it.
Her eyes were on him. He went to her, bent, kissed her. Her hands were behind his head, she pressed his lips hard against hers and kissed him for a long time.
“Your mouth tastes like paradise,” she said. She gave him a crooked smile, her eyes moist. “Thank God you’re not drunk.”
It was not at all what he had expected. Suddenly he was emotional again, because he didn’t deserve this mercy. Until he realised it might be a strategy, agreed between her and Doc Barkhuizen. Let him say what he wanted to say. He straightened up again. “I’m going back to the psychiatrist, when this case is over.”
“Okay.” She said it so quietly that he could barely hear her. “I’m glad.”
“Until then I will drink, but I won’t get so drunk again.”
She didn’t react. He knew it was because she was also an alcoholic. Any prediction about how you were going to handle alcohol was ridiculous. That was the first of the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Steps, the recognition that you were powerless against drink; that your life was out of control. But tonight he had only drunk one double. He could do it again.
“Then rather come and drink at home. Just don’t leave the booze here. Keep it in your car.”
He thought about it. For a moment it seemed like a wonderful possibility, a solution, but then he realised that it would be incredibly selfish of him. To sit and drink in front of her, knowing she also longed for the same release.
He just nodded. He wanted to change the subject, he wanted the normality of their before-booze-life back, he wanted to ask: “How was your day?” but he couldn’t, because he knew her day had been hell.
“Have you eaten?” she asked and got up out of her chair slowly.
What reviewers have said about Icarus:
Michele Magwood for the Sunday Times:
Meyer has perfected structure and pace, reveals and red herrings, chapter beats, plot and subplot but he enriches the story with fascinating detail …
He salts Icarus with Tinder and other social media, and introduces us to “zero-day vulnerabilities”, the hidden back doors in computer software that hackers can use to hijack data. He lays bare the racket of the old KWV, “the narrow-minded, strict, conservative, prescriptive, rule-bound, Broederbond-controlled wine farmer’s co-operative, which at that time was merely an extension of the apartheid government.” He also draws aside the curtain on the international wine trade. In latter books Meyer has deepened his characterisation. Here he brings in a golden boy who is a psychopath and another young man on the autistic spectrum, a brilliant computer programmer who has “social interaction issues”.
The Crime Warp
Meyer’s writing brought South Africa to life for me again. When I read Cobra, I got a real sense of place and atmosphere. In Icarus it’s even stronger, with vivid pictures of physical locations as well as little character quirks, cultural attitudes and vignettes of detail that add real depth the portrayal of South African life in the novel.
Final verdict – don’t delay, just get it as soon as you can. I’ve even asked Mrs Romancrimeblogger for the earlier Benny Griessel novels for my birthday. Enough said!
Every once in a while there comes along a writer, an already accomplished storyteller, who grows into the stature of a great writer through one wonderful story. That author is Deon Meyer; the story he has masterfully crafted is Icarus. It is an unbelievably fine piece of storytelling, just as much rooted in history and family as it’s setting in the modern world of Internet millionaires…
It has wit, passion, envy, family, courage… it has a little of everything and it will keep you guessing till the very end. The rich ensemble of characters are a pleasure to meet. Above all there is Benny. Benny who is all too vividly human.
South African crime novelist Meyer delivers another expertly crafted thriller that feels exceptionally timely, given its focus on the high-tech and wine industries.
The richness of the characters, especially the multifaceted Benny, elevates this above most contemporary police procedurals.
The Bowed Bookshelf
His books have a richness and specificity that bring South Africa (and crimes committed there) vividly to life …
Joan Hambidge on FMR:
The novel constantly moves on two levels. And Meyer is able to keep all these balls in the air in this fascinating crime novel
Give Deon Meyer a Bell’s!
Elmari Rautenbach in Rapport:
Meyer shows his mastery in the characterisation. And nowehere so as when you see how a character comes to life under his touch.
In ICARUS, the peripheral characters get their turn. There is warmth and depth, but especially sparkle when he turns the now familiar members of the Hawks team into human beings: Bones, the numbers man, Mooiwillem and his touch with women, Lithpel Davids, Uncle Fankie, Vusi taking care of his mother. The Forensic Analysts Thick and Thin – “the Eagles to you Hawks” – who needle everybody like two stand-up comedians.
But above all, this is the story of Vaughn Cupido … With Benny boozing, he has to take charge of the investigation. And he ponders being alone, and taking responsibility for the first time.
That does not stop him from saying what he has to say (as authentic as all the characters), in his unique way. In an unguarded moment, he tells ‘Benna’: “The heart of the matter is, I can’t be Vaughn the Terrible, if you aren’t Benny the Sober. It’s like that line in the movies – you complete me.” With Benny answering drily: “And now you’re going to kiss me.”
Cupido and Griessel. What a pair. What a team. Because eventually, people make the story. And these two can hold a candle to the best in the world.