Race against time

2010-06-30 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

Thirteen Hours

Deon Meyer

Hodder and Stoughton

CAPE Town is, once again, the setting for South Africa’s best-known crime- fiction writer Deon Meyer’s latest ­novel featuring his grizzled hero ­Detective Benny Griessel.

Crime writers tend to love misfits and losers and Meyer’s Griessel is no exception: a washed-up ex-alcoholic still battling his addiction, separated from his wife and struggling to connect with his children and whose awareness of his own failings leads him to battle injustice. Even his position in the police force is no longer clearcut. Very much a leftover from the old order he now finds himself cast in the role of “mentor” giving advice and helping the affirmative action ­appointees solve their cases.

His wide experience and uncanny ability to get the job done obviously still count for something because when a young American tourist is found with her throat slit, in a case which threatens to have enormous political repercussions, his boss, John Africa, immediately puts him in charge of investigations.

Griessel’s job is made more urgent by the fact that the girl’s best friend, Rachel Anderson, managed to escape her captors and is now on the run, too scared to hand herself in because she fears police complicity. For Griessel it becomes a race against time to find her before she meets the same fate as her dead friend.

As if this is not enough, he also finds himself simultaneously trying to solve the murder of a big-name Afrikaans record-company owner whose wife has been framed to make it look like she did it.

Meyer, who has won praise for his previous novels, is very good at delineating some of the tensions and conflicts that underlie our new democracy, as well as evoking the atmosphere of a more menacing Cape Town that exists beyond the tourist brochures. His is a tough, unglamorous depiction of a city still scarred by its recent history while in Griessel he has created a sympathetic and likeable character — an essentially good man struggling with his own private demons.

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