Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dead Before Dying: Deon Meyer

This debut novel by Deon Meyer, published in Afrikaans in 1996, provides a picture of a changing society, a complex police investigation, and the effects that policemen's jobs have on their lives.

Mat Joubert, a Captain in the Cape Town police force, is depressed following the death of his wife, who was also in the police force. The story is set in post-apartheid South Africa and the group that Joubert works in is now reporting to a new boss, Colonel Bart de Wit, who is cracking down on the force and expecting them to get in shape mentally and physically. Joubert's friend and co-worker Benny Griessel is in even worse shape mentally and physically. 

Lieutenant Leon Petersen is Murder and Robbery's only "officer of color." He is having problems with his marriage. He complains to Joubert about his troubles:  
And now Bart de Wit tells me I must spark because blacks must get up the ladder, show it is not just affirmative action. Now, suddenly, I'm black. Not colored anymore, not Cape Malay or brown, but black. Instant reclassification. And I must spark. Now I ask you Captain, what else do I do? ...my pay slip is still waiting for affirmative action. And not just mine. All of ours. White, black, brown.
Thus the story is as much about the policemen working through their problems as solving the crimes. The case that comes to Mat Joubert is a series of apparently random killings. He tries to deal with this in a changing culture, with a new boss, and while he tries to mend his life.

This is a good story with interesting characters, even the minor characters. There is a sub-plot about a bank robber that is entertaining, and it gets intertwined with the main case. The ending was not entirely satisfactory but that sometimes happens with crime fiction novels, and it did not ruin the book for me. This was a very good debut for this writer. I have heard that later books are even better and I look forward to trying them. Based on what I have read, Mat Joubert shows up later in Trackers (2010). Benny Griessel is part of a series of three books starting with Devil's Peak (2007). And there will be a fourth in 2014.

At the FAQs page on the author's site, he says:
It is more fun to read them in the order they were written, but it's not essential.
Since that is the way I like to read books by an author, even if the characters are not linked, I will take his advice.

Stop You're Killing Me! has a good listing of Deon Meyer's books, with indications of original (Afrikaans) publication date vs. English translation date.

Petrona has a review of this title plus links to other reviews.


20 comments:

  1. Thanks TracyK - I have not read this one and I usually try to read chronologically if I can so will seek this out - can't say I know many other South African writers working in the genre - any worth recommending?

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    1. Sergio, I hope you try it and like it. The only other South African author I am aware of is James McClure, whose books were published in the 70's and 80's but have not read any yet. Reading the first in the series before the end of the year. Oh, also, I have heard of Malla Nunn and want to try her books. This is a new area to me.

      In a comment below, Col suggests Mike Nicol and Roger Smith.

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  2. Hey Tracy,

    I did read one Deon Meyers title sometime last year and wasn't enthused by it. - Trackers. It's not that he can't write but there was a quality or tone to the novel as if I was watching a movie unfold and it had multiple storylines using characters from previous books. I just felt it wasn't a good introduction to his work. I don't think I've even heard of this title that you reviewed. I'm not averse to trying him again and have the first book in his Bennie Griessel series, Devil's Peak. His character is an alcoholic. Thirteen Hours is said to be adapted as an upcoming film with Sean Bean set to play Griessel. That was last year's news and the number one reason why I want to read this series of books. While I wasn't impressed or haven't seen what the fuss is yet about Meyer, I am open to giving him another try and your review reminded me of him. My apologies for rambling.

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    1. Keishon, I enjoy and learn from your "rambling". The only other one I have is Blood Safari and it is one of his more recent books, I think. So I hope to get some others. Because I already have so many books and authors to read, realistically I will have to take my time finding and reading them.

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  3. Tracy - I like Deon Meyer's work very much, and part of the reason is exactly what you say: he creates interesting characters. And the South Africa setting is unmistakeable. I also like the way Meyer is not afraid to take on difficult issues.

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    1. Margot, I am sure I first read about Deon Meyer at your blog, and I have you to thank for getting hooked on his books.

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  4. I don't think I have read this one yet - as the plot doesn't seem familiar. Looks like I'm going to be jumping around when I finally read this and the unread others,
    I would recommend Mike Nicol and Roger Smith also form this neck of the woods.

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    1. Thanks for the recommendations, Col. I liked this book because it has a somewhat realistic view of police work and the crime (as realistic as fiction can be and not be dull). I am just a sucker for most police procedural mysteries.

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  5. TracyK: I started reading Meyer well into his books. I thought Trackers was exceptionally good. I have wondered whether to go back to earlier books he has written or just read going forward. At the present time I am think I am unlikely to read his earlier books. I also had the good fortune to have him thoughtfully answer some questions for me.

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    1. Bill, I am glad to hear you liked his later books. I have much to look forward to. I did go read your questions and Meyer's answers. Very interesting.

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  6. I definitely recommend Malla Nunn's books. She lived in Swaziland under apartheid, and her family was subjected to its ridiculous laws. They left and moved to Australia, where she lives with her family.
    Her books, set in the 1950s are good, and one should start with the first -- A Beautiful Place to Die.

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    1. Thanks for the info on Malla Nunn, Kathy. The books sound great. I will be on the lookout for A Beautiful Place to Die.

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  7. Tracy, I have read some positive reviews of Deon Meyer's books including TRACKERS at Bill Selnes blog and look forward to reading his books shortly. I haven't read many books set in South Africa not to mention Christie's THE MAN IN THE BROWN SUIT. And how could I forget the delightful books of English satirical novelist Tom Sharpe who takes a dig at the apartheid regime.

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    1. Prashant, I had forgotten that The Man in the Brown Suit was set partially in Cape Town. I am not familiar with Tom Sharpe's books, but they sound interesting.

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  8. This does sound interesting, but I feel at the moment that the last thing I need is to start a new series!

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  9. Moira, I know what you mean. So far, I am not holding myself back much. But in 2014, I do have to set some limits.

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  10. I thought 13 Hours by Deon Meyer was a good unputdownable thriller. I have not read his other books. Too many books, not enough time.
    And I think I'm developing a seriesphobia. Just have to pick one book in a series and try it out, as I can't make more reading commitments! I'll break out in hives if I see another series ahead of me as I already read several.
    But I will read one of Anne Cleeves' Shetland-set books.

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    1. Kathy, I find I read the first book in a lot of series and then never get further. (Or it takes a long time.) Not because I don't want to continue, but because there are so many books and new authors... as you say.

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  11. I've only read one Deon Meyer (Thirteen Hours), but I did enjoy it and plan to read more when I get a chance. Yes, it's thriller territory, but he has a different approach to characterisation and pace than thriller writers from other countries, so it's interesting and refreshing.

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  12. Marina, I also noticed a difference in the writing, and that is one reason I enjoy reading international books. The variety.

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