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by Deon Meyer
Little, Brown, May 2006
352 pages
ISBN: 0316000132

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Captain Mat Joubert is very nearly at rock bottom. He's overweight and on a path careering downwards since the death of his police officer wife Lara two years previously. And he's got one last chance to redeem himself.

Mat's a good detective who's about an inch from being bounced out of the Cape Town police force. And his predicament is not helped by the arrival of Colonel Bart de Wit, a former member of the African National Congress and now a high-flyer in the multi-racial South African police force.

De Wit has all the jargon off pat, plus a secondment to Scotland Yard under his belt which he thinks has turned him into a super-cop. And he's determined to get rid of the dead wood littering the department. Mat is told to lose weight, get fit, see a shrink, or ship out.

Meanwhile, the bodies are piling up in a perplexing case. None of the victims had anything in common, and all were killed with an antique gun and equally elderly ammunition. It's no ordinary gun either -- a 19th century German weapon, built to last, and used by officers in the Boer War.

And if this isn't enough, there's also a bank robber on the loose -- and one with a difference, who compliments the bank tellers on their perfume before legging it with the dosh.

Deon Meyer's books show characters trying to cope in an ever-changing South Africa. The books are translated from Afrikaans, and the characters themselves slip between languages. I'm a bit confused as to which order Meyer's three books -- DEAD BEFORE DYING, DEAD AT DAYBREAK and HEART OF THE HUNTER -- were actually published in originally, as they have appeared in a different order in the US and the UK.

Not that it matters, as the books are standalones, although characters do occasionally cross over. DEAD BEFORE DYING, newly out in the States, is an absolutely riveting read which I was glued to for a whole day. I rated DEAD AT DAYBREAK highly, but this one is even better.

DEAD BEFORE DYING is a tremendous novel -- immaculately paced, well-plotted (with a kick in the tail like a mule) and full of all too real, flawed characters. Meyer is definitely a writer to watch.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, April 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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